Scheduling for Higher Efficiency, Production, and Profit

How to reduce no-shows, cancellations, and stress in your dental practice.

Updated 6/30/20

Poor scheduling can be a major source of stress in your dental practice. If your Appointment Book is full but office tension is high, your scheduling process may be broken. Ask yourself:

  • Are cancelled appointments and no-shows an epidemic in your practice?
  • Does your office consistently run behind schedule?
  • Are you rushing one appointment so you can get on to the next?
  • Does it take weeks before you can fit a new patient into your schedule?
  • Does your schedule allow you to perform the kind of dentistry you want to do?
  • Are schedule holes causing excessive stress on you and your team?
  • Is your schedule so overbooked that you don’t even have time to eat?
  • Is your schedule burning you out?

If you answered “yes” to at least three of these questions, your scheduling process needs repair. Done properly, scheduling can reduce no-shows, cancellations, and stress in your dental practice. When you have days that are better organized, your patients will receive more quality attention from you. Your improved concentration and lowered stress will benefit you and your patients. Plus, you’ll get to practice the kind of dentistry you want.

Preventing Schedule Problems

Preventing broken appointments, no-shows, and other schedule problems isn’t just the appointment coordinator’s job–it’s everyone’s job. Here are six ways your team can help:

  1. Give patients a reason to come back. At the end of every appointment, the clinical team member who is with the patient should stress the significance of the next appointment. Discuss the benefits of the next appointment and the possible risks of not showing up.
  2. Learn the verbal skills of scheduling. The appointment coordinator should indicate the amount of time being blocked for the patient in the doctor’s schedule. Help the patient accept responsibility by saying something like, “The doctor has reserved this time for you and we’re relying on you to be here.”
  3. Confirm appointments. Confirm in a positive manner and always stress the importance of the appointment and the patient’s responsibility for the appointment.
  4. Change your after-hours voicemail greeting. Some patients will call at night and leave a recorded cancellation message. Discourage this by changing your greeting to reflect the preference that they call during business hours.
  5. Reschedule immediately. If a patient calls about changing an appointment, reschedule them while they are on the phone.
  6. Bring it up in morning meetings. During your daily team huddle, discuss how to fill any voids in the hygienist’s or doctor’s schedule. Enlist team members to audit charts and look for patients who could possibly fill the open time slots, such as those with past-due treatments, unappointed restorative work, or unappointed family members.

Building a Balanced Schedule

Building a balanced schedule–with the right mix of primary, secondary, and tertiary procedures–allows your practice to avoid highs and lows in production (Figure 1). Primary procedures, such as crown and bridge, endodontics, dentures, partials, and most cosmetic procedures, have a higher dollar value attached to them. Secondary procedures, such as simple composites and extractions, have a lower dollar value. Tertiary procedures such as seating of crowns and bridges, suture removals, have no dollar value attached.

Figure 1. Example of a balanced schedule with a mix of procedures.

The secret to getting the right mix of procedures into your schedule is pre-blocking–reserving specific time slots each day for primary procedures. Pre-block your days for approximately half of your production goal. Then add secondary and tertiary procedures around your primaries as needed.

The key to productivity is not how many patients you see in a day, but how much dentistry you do in a day.

Schedule a variety of procedures each day to meet a specific daily production goal, rather than aiming for a certain number of patients per day. For example, let’s say your monthly production goal is $70,000 and you work 16 days per month. Divide $70,000 by 16 to find your daily production goal of $4,375 per day. Break this down to $3,000 for the doctor and clinical team and $1,375 for the hygiene department. This smooths out the highs and lows, increases your productivity, and reduces financial and physical stress for you and your team. As a result, your patients will appreciate you more.

Dentrix includes a Perfect Day Scheduling tool you can use for pre-blocking appointments to meet your production goals. To activate Perfect Day Scheduling, from the Options menu in the Appointment Book, click Perfect Day Scheduling. Dentrix displays each provider’s time blocks. To move a time block within its respective operatory, drag the time block to the time you want. To increase or decrease the time block’s size, drag the bottom border of the time block down to increase or up to decrease the block’s size.

Sell the Value of Every Appointment

Dental appointments deal with people’s money and time, two of the most important things in their lives. People break appointments if they don’t understand their importance–or value–compared to everything else going on in their busy lives.

Part of fixing scheduling problems includes improving treatment recommendations. If your patient is only interested in how much their insurance will cover a given treatment, you’ve failed to sell the value of your services.

The following strategies help you communicate value when presenting recommended treatment:

  • Empower your hygienists. Hygiene appointments are the most frequently broken type of appointments. Patients may not feel the need to come in if they’re not experiencing any problems. Because 40 to 60 percent of the dentist’s production comes directly from hygiene, it’s critical to empower hygienists as patient educators. Give them the time, equipment, and technology to help patients see the value and benefits of treatment. Read “The Value of Your Dental Hygiene Team” for more insights.
  • Use visual aids. Videos, photos, and X-rays help show patients “this is what’s going on in your mouth.” Show before and after pictures to illustrate treatment benefits (or risks of skipping treatment).
  • Discuss total wellness. Explain how your treatment will help patients with their health, appearance, breath, snoring, or other wellness issues.
  • Listen. Answer patients’ questions and hear out their concerns. Slow down and pay a little bit more attention to people and what brought them to you in the first place. This builds a relationship of trust that will solidify their commitment to attending appointments.
  • Find financial solutions. Work with your patients to find payment options so they can overcome any financial barriers to treatment. If patients aren’t clear and comfortable with the financial arrangements, they’ll cancel or no-show.

Coping with a Broken Schedule

Even if you follow the best scheduling practices, someday your schedule will fall apart. No-shows are the worst. Call any patient that is five minutes late. If they answer, express concern: “We have this time reserved for you, are you OK?” See if they can come in for a partial appointment and at least get them rescheduled. Put the patient data in the tickler file if you are unable to reach them. Remember, today’s lost production is lost forever. It’s more important to focus on filling today’s schedule than four weeks out. To fill last-minute openings, look at your Appointment Book.

  • Is there someone from restorative you can move to hygiene, or vice versa?
  • Is there someone in the afternoon you can move to morning?
  • Is there someone scheduled tomorrow or later this week you can move to today?

Dentrix can help you generate current lists of patients you can call to fill unexpected schedule voids.

  • Use the ASAP List for patients who want to get in sooner than originally scheduled. Read “The New Dentrix Appointment List” for more information.
  • Use the Continuing Care List for unscheduled patients who are overdue for hygiene.
  • Use the Treatment Manager Report for finding patients who need a certain procedure so you can fill a specific time slot.
  • Generate a custom list for patients who have treatment plans posted to the Ledger and unused insurance benefits available. Read “The Custom Reports and List Manager” to learn how.
  • Use the Unscheduled List for patients who have either broken an appointment or asked to be on will-call.

Use these Dentrix tools and scheduling tips prevent scheduling problems and build a more productive and profitable schedule.


Learn More

This article is a summary of Cathy Jameson’s eBook, “Scheduling for Higher Efficiency, Production and Profit.” Visit www.Dentrix.com/Efficient to download the full eBook.


By Cathy Jameson, founder of Jameson Management

Cathy Jameson is the founder of Jameson Management, an international dental management, marketing and hygiene coaching firm. The Jameson Method of Management, developed by Cathy, offers proven management and marketing systems for helping organizations improve their workflow and efficiency in a positive, forward thinking culture. Cathy earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and then a master’s degree in psychology from Goddard College. She received her doctorate from Walden University. She considers herself a lifelong learner and encourages those around her to be in a constant state of study, growth and action. She is the author of several books, including her latest title “Creating a Healthy Work Environment.” For more information on Jameson Management’s services, visit their website at jamesonmanagement.com.

Originally published in Dentrix Magazine, Fall 2017