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5 Things Every Practice Should Do Each Day to Build an Effective Schedule

The schedule is the most powerful element in running a dental office. It can make our teams work well together, hit goals, and end the day on a high note.

However, it can be the reason everything comes apart at the seams: the team can’t stand each other, the doctor has no money to pay bills, and everyone goes home exhausted and frustrated.

There are so many factors that go into building a great schedule, and so many things that can and do happen on a daily basis to wreak havoc on it.  If your office does not have a scheduling policy in place or good control over your schedule, I suggest training for both!

Building an effective schedule is complex, but you can quickly and easily implement changes that will make a difference immediately.

5 daily practices to implement tomorrow to shift from chaos to calm productivity in your schedule.

1. Have a Morning Huddle

I know you have likely heard this over and over again and you’re thinking, “Of course she is going to start with that, just like everyone else.”  Well, I have to ask: if everyone is suggesting it, then why haven’t you implemented it?

Ask any well-running, productive office if they have a morning huddle, and I’m willing to bet most of them (if not all) do.

Why is this meeting so important?  

Because this is where you get the team on the same page. This is the time and place to review things that may not go well during the day and plan for them accordingly.

This time is your chance to work as a team to fill openings, discuss ways to hit goals, review what is  important for that day or week, and get everyone working as one unified team—not functioning as many different moving parts working toward different goals.

2. Discuss How to Handle Emergencies

Every dental office gets emergency calls and this typically causes a lot of stress throughout the day.  Of course you want to get emergency patients into the office and take care of their needs, but you should bring them in at a time that works for your schedule.  And—this is important—don’t ask the doctor when to bring them in, because the answer will be “over lunch” or “whenever.”

Instead, during the morning huddle, ask the dental assistants to identify the best times to schedule possible emergencies.  This way, the scheduler knows what emergency times can be offered to callers and the assistants (who typically see the emergency patient first) can get them in a chair at a time that works best for the office schedule.

3. Block for Lunch

Many doctors would work right through lunch on a daily basis if they had their way.  Why eat when there is production to squeeze in?

Well, here are two reasons why not to book patients through lunch.  

First, we all need to eat.  There must be a planned break in the day to give everyone a chance to catch their breath. Even if you book an hour for lunch in your schedule, many times that doesn’t actually happen.  By the time the rooms are cleaned up, notes done, etc., it does not end up anywhere close to an hour.

Second, if your schedule is running behind in the morning and you don’t have a lunch scheduled in, there will be no buffer to allow the schedule to start back up on time.  If you have an hour planned for lunch, then even if you run behind in the morning, there will still be some time left to get something quick to eat and get started back on time in the afternoon.

4.  Discuss and/or Announce Opportunity Time

It’s better to have multiple people looking for ways to fill an opening in the schedule instead of making it the responsibility of just one person, the scheduler.

Develop a way to share these openings with your entire team so everyone can get creative and find potential patients to fill those openings. We all know that cancellations are inevitable in the dental office. When there is a cancellation, it is almost as though you can hear the wind getting kicked out of the team.

I suggest your team begin to refer to these openings, especially last-minute ones, as “opportunity time.”  When you send out a message to everyone (or make an announcements on your headsets) that the doctor has two hours of opportunity time the next day, this reframe puts a positive spin on the situation and offers a challenge for the team to help find the patient who will take advantage of that opportunity.

5.  Implement a Written Scheduling Policy

As I mentioned initially, if you feel that the schedule is running you and your team instead of your team running the schedule, you must provide schedule training for your team.  However, in the meantime, you can begin building your own policy based on how you want scheduling  handled.

The key is to keep a list of scheduling issues as they arise so you can identify which need a written policy. Then, discuss these at the next team meeting or huddle. Otherwise, trying to struggle forward without a written plan for handling specific issues, your staff will always be reacting to the schedule instead of running it confidently.

Over time, you will see your team become more proactive on the schedule and discover that you are now in control of each day.

It’s time to take the control back from your schedule and place it firmly in the hands of your front office team.

The schedule drives the office and should be addressed proactively each day. Let your scheduling policy create the framework you need to address the most common and recurring issues and be willing to be flexible and open to the team’s attempts to step up and manage the day.

The difference between disorder and order are the steps you take now.

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.