Dental Scheduling: Master the Art and Science of Patient Scheduling

It is no secret that having a good dental schedule is the key to running a successful practice. Even more so in the age of the pandemic. You do not want your waiting room to be a hotbed for viral infections. According to the American Dental Association, patients visiting offices have dipped 20% below usual levels. If you want to continue to provide excellent dental care and ensure your practice’s profitability, your patient’s health and safety should be your number one priority. With all the added considerations due to the virus, like the number of patients in the waiting room and disinfecting the chair after each patient, an effective schedule is essential.

What makes a patient schedule effective? Like with any office management system, patient scheduling requires a set structure and regular maintenance. Think restorative procedures and routine hygiene — literally and figuratively, you need a balance of both in your schedule. While organization is essential, your ability to anticipate, prevent, or react to scheduling issues is what makes a patient schedule truly successful. This is where science meets art in the pursuit of the ideal patient schedule. By setting a detailed template for your dental schedule, you can fill more chairs without compromising the health and safety of your patients and eliminate unnecessary stress in your office. This encourages open communication between your staff and patients, too. Improved patient care and higher profits for your practice mean everyone wins!

This handy guide to improving your patient schedule will walk you through everything you need to know about scheduling, from tips for setting goals to how to avoid common pitfalls. It’s time to stop working for your patient schedule and let it do the work for you!

Set goals for your dental schedule

Before jumping into updating scheduling templates and mailing out appointment reminders, take a step back, and focus on what you plan to accomplish. From there, set one simple goal for your patient schedule. Your schedule should increase cost efficiency while decreasing stress for your staff. The easiest way to measure progress is to set a daily average production goal that ladders up to your monthly or annual goals. To do this, simply divide your monthly or annual production goal by the total number of working days (either full or partial) in that period. Depending on your growth plan, aim for 10-15% growth from the previous month or year. This number gives your office manager a guiding light. It enables them to balance the routine procedures, like cleanings and free consultations, with high ticket procedures, such as root canals or periodontal surgery. It also gives them space to plan out contingency measures such as protective steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.Your growth number also helps indicate how your time is being spent in the office. Essentially, it provides extra clarity to your bottom line.

Make scheduling a team effort

It’s easy to measure the success of your patient schedule with numbers from production. However, day-to-day improvements can also be measured by your stress levels and that of your staff. Get your entire staff on board by having a quick meeting every morning to discuss the daily schedule. Dental assistants know better than anyone which patients are most likely to cancel, while also being able to predict potential scheduling conflicts. It is also important to choose your scheduling manager carefully and regularly discuss both production and team goals with them. Laura Hatch, founder of Front Office Rocks, says that successful dental schedules result from a single word: attitude. “The most productive schedules in any dental office have a single person responsible in the office and that person always has the right attitude,” says Hatch.“

On most days, the schedule is a challenge. It changes and fluctuates regularly, and those changes impact everyone in the office: the dentist, the entire team, and the patient. “The right person managing the schedule knows it will never run perfectly, but approaches it as a game or a puzzle and wants to win.” So now it’s time to embrace the challenge. You’ve chosen the proper scheduler and set goals — it’s time to make some improvements!

Five quick fixes to maximize your dental schedule

1 - Switch to 10-minute increments

Compared to using 15-minute units on your patient schedule, 10-minute units keep appointment times highly accurate. They also encourage more granular thinking. Being even slightly more specific helps dental assistants communicate with dentists to cut appointment times.

Think about it this way: If you have three dental assistants who each save 15 minutes per day on an average working schedule, that gives your practice an extra 500 hours of time each year.

2 - Perform time studies

Time for a gut check. Knowing exactly how long procedures take for each dentist, dental assistant, and auxiliary staff member keeps your patient schedule realistic and successful. On top of that, now you have to add in the time it takes to change into PPEs, disinfect the chairs, and other safety measures you might take. Spend two weeks timing (down to the minute) how long each procedure and task takes. At the end of the two weeks, you’ll have an average for each procedure to give your scheduling manager.

3 - Prevent broken appointments and empty chairs

Staring at an empty chair for two hours is the ultimate scheduling nightmare. Patients are more likely to cancel these days as they avoid dentists out of fear of getting the virus. However, by looking ahead and creatively reacting to these problems, your practice can reduce broken appointments while building trust with your patients. Besides the usual email reminders, raise awareness among your patients about the protective measures your practice has to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  

Show empathy towards your patients and reassure them that you are just as concerned as they are. Also consider sending small samples of floss or a toothbrush with a personal reminder. This way, your patients will feel special and appreciated, making them less likely to break an appointment. Remember, there are two things everyone loves: feeling important and free goodies! As the appointment grows closer, text message reminders within 24 hours of the appointment add a nice, modern touch. These reminders are usually a hit with younger patients, with some practices even sending day-of reminder texts.

4 - Publish a clear cancellation and no-show policy

One key to a well-tuned schedule at a dental practice? A clear, detailed, and well-communicated cancellation and no-show policy.

5 - Put social media to work for your patient schedule

Don’t forget to use social media to your advantage when strategizing. This is where all of that work you put into your Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram comes into play. Social media lets you play both offense and defense when it comes to filling holes in the schedule. Post fun reminders for patients to schedule an annual cleaning, and share pictures of post-procedure smiles with a timely incentive (i.e. “Nothing says summer like a bright smile — click to make your appointment today!”).

Don’t forget to post the steps you’ve taken to make your practice COVID-19 free too. It’s important that patients can see that you’ve taken the initiative to keep them safe during this period. Plus, blasting out last-minute openings to your channels, social media can also help fill unexpected holes. This can be done frequently on Twitter (the Wild West of social media), sparingly on Facebook (around 1-2 times per week to create a feeling of exclusivity while not clogging you page), and rarely on Instagram (keep this highly curated). Be sure to include links to make it easy for patients to fill the open appointment.

Practice makes perfect

Crafting a perfect dental schedule requires a conscious, collective effort by the entire team. However, with the right attitude you’ll soon notice the difference, both in team morale and with your bottom line. “The reality of the schedule can be daunting, [but] a strong scheduler with a positive approach and a can-do willingness to make it work will thrive [all] while the office reaps the rewards of a productive day,” says Hatch. Mastering the art and science of your patient schedule takes time. It is an ongoing process that brings new challenges every day. By embracing the challenge with these best practices, your dental office will be well-equipped for any situation.

RevenueWell’s online dental scheduling software allows patients to book at their convenience and gives you the control you need to maximize your schedule.

Want to learn how you can generate more appointments with RevenueWell? Request for a demo today!