Chapter 5: SchedulerStudy Guide and Resources
- Is your schedule causing you stress?
- Does your schedule cause conflict in the office?
- Have you set a monthly goal for the office?
- Are you using the schedule to track against your goal?
Ask Your Staff
- Does the schedule cause the front office and back office undue stress and conflict?
- Do you know the actual length of each type of appointment?
- Are you reviewing the schedule during the morning huddle?
- What is the difference between the doctor and hygiene schedule?
- Set a monthly production goal. Then, break that goal down into weekly and daily goals.
- Learn how to schedule productively.
- Develop a system to ensure that each patient leaves with their next appointment scheduled.
- Make confirmation calls a priority.
5 Things You 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 daily 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. Practice makes perfect, and with practice, your team can be like a well-prepared football team passing the ball seamlessly to make the touchdown.
1. Have a Morning Huddle
I know you have likely heard this repeatedly and you’re thinking, “Of course she is going to start with that, just like everyone else.” Well, I must 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 daily 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 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 announcement 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.
Can You Move a Patient’s Appointment?
Yes! With the right training, communication, and follow-through, there is absolutely no reason that patients cannot be moved to help make the schedule the best it can be. In fact, when done correctly, I encourage it.
Before you start moving patients to maximize your schedule, there are a few things that you need to have in place. Make sure your team is well trained on these.
Follow Scheduling Policy – You want to make sure that your team is following scheduling policy to the letter from the start, so that the need to move patients in the future decreases. Your scheduler needs to be well trained to think about how the appointment will fit best into the day, where it makes the most sense, and if it will help hit production goals for the day.
The key is to make sure that you have a detailed scheduling policy for your team to follow and then ensure that everyone is following it.
Know What to Say – When scheduling appointments with patients, you need to use the right verbal skills. It will be much easier to move patients later if you them at the time of scheduling whether it’s okay to call them if needed to possibly move this appointment. Don’t say to the patient, “We get a lot of last-minute cancellations, so will it be okay to call you to help fill an opening if one arises?” However, it is effective to say it like this: “As this appointment gets closer, if I see that it might work better for you and our schedule, we might possibly call you about whether this day or time is flexible. Would that be okay?”
Enter Notes in the System – It is also important to note whether they tell you any specifics, such as “Any time on Tuesdays is good for me because it’s my day off” or “Sure, you can call me as long as it is a 3 pm or later appointment.” That information needs to be documented so that you follow their requests when deciding if they are a patient that you can possibly ask to move. On the other hand, if a patient says, “No, this is the best day and time for me,” then you need to make note of that as well and avoid calling that patient about rescheduling.
Refer to the Patient’s Scheduling Notes – When it is time to call patients to ask them to move, make sure that you are reviewing the notes and then using that information with your phone call. When calling patients, avoid saying something like “We are calling because someone cancelled last-minute,” which gives them a negative perception. You just want to say you have an opening that you are trying to fill.
Try to spin it into an even more positive comment, such as: “I know you prefer mornings, so I thought to offer this appointment to you.” This makes it seem to the patient that you are looking out for them and personally thinking of them, which has a positive customer service effect of seeming like your office is doing the patient a favor—rather than seeming like you are asking the patient to do your office a favor by moving their appointment.
Document Everything – This point is IMPORTANT!
Make sure that the team member who calls patients about rescheduling is keeping detailed notes as to who called, when the call was made, what was offered, and how the message was left. Here’s an example of a good note: “Laura called at 10 am on Monday to offer Mrs. Smith the 10 am opening on Tuesday. I asked Mrs. Smith to call to confirm if she would want to move up, and I stated that if we did not hear back from her, we still look forward to seeing her at 2 pm on Tuesday as scheduled.”
If your staff calls a patient about rescheduling but must leave a message, make sure that the staff clearly explains what will happen if the patient doesn’t want this other appointment. Your message needs to say clearly that you are not moving their appointment without their return call or email. You are leaving them still scheduled at their original day and time and still expect to see them then if they don’t call your office back. By being clear in your message, you are can avoid the kind of chaos in the schedule that can happen if you confuse patients about what is happening when. Make sure patients can understand what new time slot you are offering and that they should confirm whether they want the earlier appointment.
Don’t Move It More Than Once – Finally, only attempt to move the appointment once. Do not continually call patients in attempts to move them (unless there is some serious issue, like the office is closed). What’s more, do not move them more than one time if you can help it.
Patients typically don’t mind having their appointment moved once if needed, but more than that is annoying, and it looks like your office is not in good control of the schedule. If someone moves their appointment to accommodate your office schedule, then make very clear notes that they did that for you. Make sure everyone knows not to call this patient again to ask them to move, and then when they do arrive for their appointment, make sure someone acknowledges them for moving with a “thank you.”
8-Hour Day Doctor Schedule Outline
This graph illustrates how to break down an 8-hour day as a scheduler for the doctor.
It breaks out five 1.5 hour portions of your day (20% each) to total 7.5 hours + .5-hour lunch.
As a scheduler, your day functions best when it is organized and well planned. You can use this graph to help you organize your day and ensure productivity for your doctor.
8-Hour Day Hygiene Schedule Outline
This graph illustrates how to break down an 8-hour day as the hygiene coordinator and scheduler. It breaks out five 1.5 hour portions of your day (20% each) to total 7.5 hours + .5-hour lunch.
As a scheduler, your day functions best when it is organized and well planned. You can use this graph to help you organize your day and ensure productivity for the hygiene department.
Morning Huddle Agenda
Review of Previous Day
Production: ______________ Collections: ________________ New Pts Scheduled:_______________
SCHEDULED PRODUCTION FOR TODAY: ____________________________________
Make notes on printed schedule – Review Both Hygiene and Doctor Patients
- Notes in Appointment? — What Procedure?
- Concerns to get work done in allotted time?
- Outstanding treatment?
- Referred to Specialists – If So Did They Go?
- Outstanding Lab Cases – Are They Here?
- Family Members Not Coming Here Yet?
- Do They Owe Any Money? – Why?
- Identify Perio Charting Needs?
Where Can We Put Emergencies Today? Who Can We Call to Fill The Openings Today?
REVIEW FOR NEXT FEW DAYS:
- For Next 2-3 Days – are there any lab cases we need that don’t have yet?
- What is the next big opening in both Hygiene and/or Doctor schedule that we are trying to fill?
- Any other concerns for next 2-3 days that need to be addressed today? Who will handle?