December 30, 2020
by Amanda Duffy, Rockwest Dental
A well-organized appointment system is a cornerstone of successful scheduling, but even the best-laid plans can turn to chaos with an unexpected occurrence, such as a dental emergency. How to manage your regular appointments and dental emergencies efficiently is key to keeping your staff and patients happy while meeting your own practice goals.
Don’t leave your practice goals to chance and create a plan for achieving them successfully. Part of your plans should include effective patient scheduling, which requires structure and maintenance. Setting up a detailed template for your practice to follow needs commitment and collaboration from all the members of your team.
Form the basis of your template based on what an ideal day would look like for you and your team. This will help you develop a schedule to enable your team to work at a steady pace and meet the expectations of your regular patients while being able to react to scheduling changes and satisfy the demands of unexpected emergency patients.
For example, major procedures, including veneers, crowns and bridges are highly productive and should account for around 50% of your day. Moderately productive procedures, such as restorations, composites, amalgams, and root canals should account for a further 40%, while adjustments, emergencies and other miscellaneous procedures make up the rest.
Provide predictable and consistent care by creating clinical protocols for each type of visit. Draft treatment plans for each patient and ensure your staff know how to schedule appointments to meet the time allocations appropriately.
Hold brief morning meetings with them to discuss the day’s schedule and flag up any potential issues that can be averted before they become a problem. Choose a front desk manager you can rely on to meet the challenges of the role and set goals for improvements.
Reduce cancellations and no-shows by publishing a clear cancellation policy. Give it to new patients and display it clearly in the waiting area.
Pre-empt forgotten appointments by sending out reminders. Drop an email to patients 2 weeks before their appointment or forward a text message directly to their phones.
Review your processes regularly to monitor results and adjust them if necessary. Your schedule should be adaptable to meet changing demands and keep your practice one step ahead.
Emergency dental services provide a crucial source of new patients to your practice. Managing them is vital in maintaining a successful dental practice, but if they aren’t managed effectively your practice will suffer. Not all emergencies are created equal, but if your appointment scheduling does not differentiate between a major emergency and a minor emergency then you may find your regular appointment schedules overstretched to accommodate these additional patients.
Dental emergencies that are a major danger to oral health require immediate intervention from a dentist. Generally, this may include treatments to stop bleeding, easing severe pain or saving a dislodged tooth. However, dental emergencies that are not as serious—although requiring treatment—do not require a dentist to intervene straight away. The vast majority of emergencies fall into this latter category and can usually wait.
A significant portion of a dentist’s daily production takes place in the morning. It stands to reason that if you schedule emergency appointments in the morning then you will not be working on the highly productive major procedures from your regular patients. This will diminish your overall daily productivity—and profitability. Minor emergencies should be scheduled in the afternoon when you have more time to treat them without encroaching on your regular patients’ appointment times.
There are some schools of thought that say that emergency time should not be built into schedules for dentists at all because so much of it is unused—which over the year results in a substantial loss of revenue. On the face of it, this may be anathema, but with a specific protocol on how your staff should deal with emergencies, it may not be as out there as it seems.
Training your staff to know the difference between major and minor emergencies will give your practice a better handle on how to schedule them without wreaking havoc on your regular patients’ appointments.
Dental assistants can be trained to handle and triage emergency patients, taking appropriate x-rays and scans, before briefing you about the situation. Staff who make appointments on the front desk can be issued with a list of mild and major dental emergencies so they can schedule an appointment as appropriate. If they are uncertain, they can speak to a dental assistant about how to proceed in a specific situation.
Most emergency treatments can be carried out relatively quickly, providing it is only an emergency treatment, not an entire treatment plan. If a patient is insistent on emergency dental treatment for a minor issue, it is likely you will be able to turn the treatment around quickly so that it isn’t detrimental to your schedules, while keeping your new patient happy. For example, if a patient’s tooth has broken off (and they are not in pain) a temporary crown to provide a decent cosmetic result will fix the patient’s problem in the interim until you can schedule another appointment.
Your new, emergency patient will, of course, need to return to have a thorough examination, treatment plan and written estimate of costs before any further care is carried out. However, for your practice, your regular patients and your new emergency patient it is a win-win situation—and all that is required is for your front desk to set up another appointment for your emergency patient before they leave so you can discuss the next steps with them.
An effective patient schedule will lower stress levels and make life much easier for you and your team. In dealing with emergencies efficiently both your new and regular patients will be receiving the care they anticipated, and you and your team will be adhering to the schedule which makes life much rosier for all of you.
About the Author
Amanda has worked for over 20 in the healthcare sector, including a decade in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. With considerable knowledge of the fields of dentistry and oral health, she has many years of experience writing high-quality informative dental content. Amanda is currently the lead dental writer at Rockwest Dental.