Practice success depends on a strong scheduling system. Every practice has a schedule, but not all have a scheduling system. Taking a proactive and strategic approach when designing your scheduling system will determine the level of stress and income in your practice. As management guru Stephen Covey has said, “The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
At first glance, it might seem impossible to create the ideal schedule for a dentist. After all, dentists practice different days, have different hours, provide treatment at different speeds, and offer different types of services. Successful practices account for all these scheduling variables.
An effective scheduling system allows the doctor and team to manage patient flow rather than be managed by it.
The schedule is the center of all practice management systems. When well designed, it will significantly decrease stress because it is efficient and predictable. Here are five steps necessary to create an effective scheduling system:
1. Use 10-minute units
Many practices are still using 15-minute units for their schedules. This costs the practice approximately seven days of treatment time every year, which means that doctors are working that much harder. Shift your practice schedule to 10-minute units immediately. Ten-minute units allow the practice to schedule procedures with a higher degree of accuracy. For example, using 10-minute units, a practice can schedule a 20-minute procedure with ease. With 15-minute units, the procedure must be scheduled either with not enough time (15 minutes) or too much (30 minutes). Ten-minute units offer greater flexibility and result in increased productivity.
2. Create a template for each operatory
Every unit of the schedule needs to be put into a template in advance. A schedule built on a 10-minute template outlines exactly how every 10-minute increment will be used for each operatory. Before the first patient arrives, a doctor can look at the schedule and know very well how each day is going to flow.
3. Schedule by production
Many practices make the mistake of scheduling by reactively filling empty time slots.
One of the key principles of scheduling is to always be proactive and do the most productive things first.
Levin Group recommends “power cell” scheduling where you pick specific 1- to 3-hour time blocks, usually in the morning, and fill only those blocks with high-production cases. Without a strong scheduling system in place, the schedule will become clogged with all types of dentistry at the cost of productivity and profitability. Scheduling with production as a priority eliminates unnecessary stress and helps the practice meet its daily goals.
4. Establish the ideal day and ideal production
Practices should apply a mathematical formula to their daily schedule. The easiest way to achieve a desired annual production is to schedule an average daily level of production that will achieve that annual goal. For example, if you want to produce $500,000 in 200 days, you need to schedule $2,500 per day. While you may not produce exactly this number each day, it is the daily average that is important.
Ideal schedules and daily production goals also tend to reduce practice stress because they allow doctors and their teams to achieve a consistent day-in day-out workload. At Levin Group, we encourage practices to schedule approximately the same production each day so that the practice is well paced.
5. Schedule doctors and assistants separately
One of the larger problems of dental practices is that doctors and assistants often waste a significant portion of their time acting on the belief that they need to be together constantly.
When doctors and assistants are separately coded within the schedule and assigned to different patients and chairs, practices see an immediate increase in efficiency.
While it may take a few weeks to master this new process, many practices have been able to significantly increase productivity, resulting in reduced stress as patient flow improves.
6. Reduce no-shows and cancellations
No-shows and cancellations occur in all practices. Practices can use a variety of communication techniques that build value for appointments and help decrease schedule failures, including:
- At the time of scheduling, let patients know that their appointments have been specially reserved for them. Use effective verbal skills and scripting to emphasize the need for the treatment scheduled, as well as to educate patients on the significance of reserving appointments before they leave the office.
- Have the front desk staff inform patients that 48-hours notice is required to cancel an appointment. Have the team circle this information in red on the appointment card.
- As you re-train your patients, you will go through a six-month cycle where no-shows may continue. In each case, you must tell the patient that there is normally a $50 fee for a missed appointment, but the doctor has insisted on waiving the fee this time. That is often enough for patients to hear in order to change their behavior.
Changing your practice for the better begins with effective scheduling, because the schedule impacts almost every aspect of practice activity. Remember to:
- Schedule in 10-minute units, with a template for each operatory
- Schedule the most productive procedures first by creating ideal day schedules with ideal production goals
- Schedule doctors and assistants separately, and build value for appointments to reduce no-shows and cancellations
By implementing the recommendations above, you can create a more efficient and effective scheduling system that leads to improved productivity, greater profitability, and reduced stress.