Tips for Building an Effective Schedule

Build a schedule that improves employee happiness, enhances patient care, and boosts overall profitability.

According to the Mayo Clinic, employee burnout can stem from a variety of different factors, many of which come from an employee’s lack or loss of control of their work schedule, assignments, or workload. Having an effective daily schedule can help your staff feel more in control of their surroundings, reduce their stress and improve their overall job satisfaction.

An ineffective schedule doesn’t just affect your staff. A poorly planned schedule can also affect your patient’s care and their experience with your office. If a patient feels they are not being taken care of or listened to, they will be less likely to return to your office for future care—ultimately affecting your bottom line.

How can you tell if your scheduling process needs to be corrected? Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Does you practice suffer from a high volume of cancellations or no-shows?
  • Are your dentist and staff consistently running behind schedule and playing catch up?
  • Is your dentist rushing through appointments?
  • Are patients waiting for weeks to fit into your schedule?
  • Does your office staff have the time to perform the kind of dentistry they prefer?
  • Are holes within your schedule causing your staff stress or frustration?
  • Is your schedule so overbooked that your staff doesn’t have time for lunch or breaks?
  • Are you feeling burned out due to your schedule?

If you answered “YES” to at least three of these questions, your scheduling process needs to be updated. When done properly, scheduling reduces no-shows and cancellations while improving your staff’s production and patient experiences—which all help improve office efficiencies, revenue, and patient care.

Avoiding Scheduling Problems

The first step to correcting your daily schedule is to understand that every staff member plays an intricate role in creating the perfect schedule. Below are six steps your team can take to help build a better schedule:

  1. Paint the picture: Getting patients to come back for follow-up care or routine checkups starts with helping them understand the importance of the visit. The clinical staff needs to help teach the patient the significance of the next visit. They can easily do this by discussing the benefits and possible risks of not scheduling and coming in for the next visit.
  2. Learn to discuss scheduling: With an understanding of why the next visit is so important, the patient now needs to understand how long they need to plan for the visit. Your appointment coordinator needs to effectively indicate the amount of time being booked for the patient’s next visit. This can help the patient plan their own schedule properly.
  3. Get a solid confirmation: Confirm with the patient the date, time and length of the next visit. Throughout the confirmation process, continue to stress the importance of the visit to help patients understand why the visit is so important to their oral health.
  4. Only take verbal cancellations: Office answering machines and call services are not effective places for cancellations. Encourage patients to call during office hours to cancel an upcoming appointment. If needed, change your answering machines or call centers to ask patients to call in during open office hours.
  5. Don’t lose the patient in the cracks: With the patient on the phone, reschedule a visit before they hang up. Again, train your staff to get a solid confirmation by reviewing dates and time commitments, along with painting the picture of why the visit is so important to the patient’s overall health.
  6. Fill holes early: Use your daily huddles to figure out how to fill any holes in your schedule. Have a plan and team ready to audit charts, move patients around and contact patients on your waiting list as needed.

Bringing Balance to Your Schedule

A great schedule doesn’t just show your staff where, when and what they need to be doing. An effective schedule also allows your practice to avoid highs and lows in production while getting the right mix of primary, secondary and tertiary procedures scheduled (see figure below).

  • Primary Procedures: Have a higher dollar value attached to them, such as crowns and bridges, endodontics, dentures, partials and most cosmetic procedures.
  • Secondary Procedures: Consist of lower-dollar-value procedures, such as simple composites and extractions.
  • Tertiary Procedures: Will typically have no dollar amount attached to them, such as suture removals or seating crowns and bridges.

When building an effective schedule, the key is not to focus on the number of patients seen in a day but to focus on how much dentistry you can do in a day. This means you need to build a schedule focused on a production goal rather than a patient goal.

Use the following example to help calculate a daily production goal for your team. If you have a monthly production goal of $60,000 and you plan to work 15 days that month, divide $60,000 by 15 to find your daily production goal of $4,000. You can then break this down even further by giving a $3,000 daily goal to the doctor and clinical team and a $1,000 daily goal to the hygiene department.

Monthly Production Goal/ # of Days Worked in a Month = Daily Production Goal

Breaking your production goals down like this can help your scheduling avoid highs and lows, increase overall productivity, reduce financial stress, and cut down on employee burnout. As a bonus, your patients will have a better experience and appreciate your staff and dental care more.

The Dentrix Perfect Day Scheduling tool can help you pre-block appointments to meet your production goals. To turn on the Perfect Day Scheduling tool, open the Options menu found in the Appointment Book, and click Perfect Day Scheduling. Dentrix will then display each provider’s time blocks. You can easily move each time block by dragging the time block to the desired time frame. To increase or decrease the time block sizes, drag the bottom border to the necessary duration.

Selling Appointment Benefits

If a patient doesn’t understand the importance—or benefit—of an appointment, the likelihood of them canceling or skipping their appointment increases drastically. To fix your scheduling problems, your staff needs to improve the way they present and sell treatment recommendations. Simply put, if your patient is only concerned about their cost or how much insurance will pay, you’ve failed to sell the benefits of the services you are offering.

Educate your staff on the following strategies to help them effectively communicate the benefits of a treatment or visit:

  1. Give your hygienists time: Many patients don’t feel the need to visit a dentist if they are not experiencing any pain or discomfort, making hygiene appointments the most broken appointment types. Give your hygienist the time and technology they need to effectively communicate the benefits of hygiene treatment to your patients. For more on the importance of your hygiene team, read, The Value of Your Dental Hygiene Team.
  2. Make it visual: Today’s patients learn by seeing. Provide them videos, photos, and X-rays to help visualize what is going on in their mouth. Show them before-and-after photos to demonstrate the value of a recommended treatment.
  3. Explain the overall benefit: Good dental hygiene does more for a patient than just giving them good-looking teeth. Explain how great oral hygiene can improve their overall health, appearance, breath, snoring, and emotional well-being.
  4. LISTEN: To truly educate a patient on the benefits, you must be an effective listener. Take time to ask questions or take patient questions, listen to the patient’s response, and give advice as needed. Doing so will build a strong relationship, increase trust and improve the overall patient experience.
  5. Work through the finances: Work with patients to discover different payment options that work for both you and the patient. This will help reduce barriers to acceptance and reduce the likelihood of canceling or missing a future appointment.

Working Through a Broken Schedule

Remember, you can’t recoup lost profits from a scheduled opening left unfilled. Even with the perfect schedule built, reality can still hit with no-shows and cancellations. No-shows may be the worst thing that can happen to an office schedule. Here are some tips for working with no-shows:

  • Call a no-show patient five minutes after their scheduled time:
    • Express concern for them.
    • Again, sell the benefit and see fi they can come in for a partial appointment.
    • At a minimum, reschedule them immediately while you have them on the phone.

If an opening does present itself, use these tips to help fill last-minute openings:

  • Start with looking at the Appointment Book:
    • Can you move a restorative patient over to hygiene, or vice versa?
    • Can you move an afternoon patient up into the morning block of the schedule?
    • Can you move a patient from tomorrow’s schedule or later to today’s?
  • Use Dentrix to build lists of patients you can use to fill unexpected scheduling voids:
    • Use the ASAP List as a waiting list of patients to contact about openings.
    • Use the Continuing Care List to see unscheduled patients who are overdue for hygiene.
    • Use the Treatment Manager Report to find patients in need of a particular procedure.
    • Generate a custom list of patients with unused insurance benefits and in need of a particular treatment. Learn how to build these custom reports by reading The Custom Reports and List Manager.
    • Use the Unscheduled List to see patients who have either canceled, missed an appointment, or asked to be on a will-call list.

By using these tips, tricks, and Dentrix tools, you can build your office’s perfect schedule, reduce employee burnout, improve the patient experience, and increase your profitability.

Learn More

Want to improve your scheduling procedures or office workflows? Schedule a FREE Business Health Checkup to meet with a Dentrix Practice Development Specialist or Profitability Coach. They will sit down with you to review your scheduling practices and other important KPIs, helping you improve your office’s workflows and profitability.

For a complete list of key performance indicators (KPIs) your office should be tracking, download our free eBook, Master the Metrics that Matter.