Appointment availability

July 15, 2013
Portrait of an unhappy practice … The time: Tuesday, 2 p.m. … The place … anywhere.  The reception area overflows with patients and the dentist is running behind schedule.

by Glenn Christenson

Portrait of an unhappy practice … The time: Tuesday, 2 p.m. … The place … anywhere.

The reception area overflows with patients and the dentist is running behind schedule. One patient walks out. Another patient complains to the front desk, "I've been waiting 20 minutes! I have to pick up my kids from daycare." This patient is taken to the back immediately, thereby forcing another patient who was there first to wait even longer.

A new patient calls for an afternoon appointment but becomes very upset when she is told that she will have to wait two weeks. She has a few choice words for the office and hangs up. Had this patient called in the morning, multiple time slots were available before lunch due to last-minute cancellations and the practice's inability to schedule patients earlier in the day.

The overwhelmed staff now have just one goal — to get through the afternoon somehow. Unfortunately, tomorrow promises to be much the same.

Very little is going right in this practice's schedule. There are many unhappy patients, which is not good for any office. Nothing will destroy patient satisfaction faster than a practice failing to consistently see patients on time.

To create a schedule that fosters patient satisfaction, practices should consider:

1. Keeping patients informed when the practice runs behind.

Even with the best schedule, delays can happen. The above practice has an out-of-control schedule with no scripting to handle the situation. The inefficiency is further compounded by delaying one patient while trying to accommodate another who complained. The result was a schedule hopelessly compromised. Using effective scripting to calm waiting patients proves a better choice than rearranging the schedule to appease them and angering other patients.

2. Customizing the schedule to accommodate new patients.

New patients drive practice growth. This practice was actively discouraging people from becoming new patients due to its poorly designed schedule. By reserving specific scheduling blocks for new patients, practices can accommodate them quickly and efficiently.

3. Expanding scheduling capacity.

According to Levin Group, a leading practice management firm, some practices still use 15-minute units for their schedules, which cost the dentist 12–15 days of treatment time annually due to unnecessary gaps in scheduling. By adopting 10-minute units, practices can schedule patients more accurately and increase capacity. For example, some patients may only require a 40-minute appointment instead of 45 minutes. It may be only five minutes but the effect is cumulative.

4. Eliminating appointment failures.

Many practice schedules today have 4–5% no-show and last-minute cancellation rates, which means a substantial loss of income over time. To reduce no-shows and cancellations significantly, front desk personnel and other key team members should use scripting to build value for all appointments. In addition, appointments should be confirmed two days in advance. Scripts should also remind patients who try to cancel that the practice's schedule was designed to serve their unique needs and the needs of all other patients.


An ideal day in the practice means a smooth, efficient schedule that can handle emergency patients. It means a practice that sees nearly all patients on time. It means a schedule where neither the doctor nor the team is stressed.

An inefficient schedule is a terrible thing for people to experience. It exhausts teams and frustrates patients. Living with this kind of schedule day-in and day-out for years demoralizes doctors and teams and alienates patients. These action steps ensure the highest possible patient satisfaction and the lowest stress for doctors and teams.

The Patient Satisfaction Institute offers the only patient satisfaction certification available to dental practices and confers the Morton Award for Highest Patient Satisfaction to deserving practices. PSI collects data from thousands of patients and practices annually. For more information, go to

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