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Causes of Scheduling Stress

Issue: Spring 2010

Rushing one appointment so you can get on to the next? Wondering why, at the end of the day, it feels like you’ve been running a chaotic zoo more than an orderly business?

Scheduling can cause stress of great magnitude! The management issue of “running behind” seems to affect all of the dental teams I’ve coached and researched over the past few decades. You feel uncomfortable when others are held up or inconvenienced. This strong feeling of responsibility for so many others—for personnel and patients alike—weighs heavily on you when you are unable to stay on schedule.

Rest assured that organizational and management systems that function effectively with one another are essential for the control of stress in the dental environment. Each of the 25 systems within your practice must work with every other system. One system can’t be “out of whack”, or the flow of your practice will be interrupted. Without a doubt, scheduling is one of the most critical systems that must be in place if stress is to be controlled. If you don’t control your appointment flow, who does? Your patients. If your patients control your appointment flow, what results? Chaos, and Chaos breeds stress!

The day of simply putting names into the book or filling in lines is over. Managing your schedule affects the productivity, profitability and stress control of each and every one of your procedures. Scheduling is the heartbeat of the practice. Thus, it deserves the greatest care and attention. The person responsible for making and confirming appointments must have the ability, training, time and desire to engineer each day. That training and subsequent attention will be able to help you avoid the top ten causes of scheduling stress.

(1) LATE PATIENTS

Patients are trained to be late when the office consistently runs late. Waiting is one of the main patient complaints about dentists. In our fast-track world, people want and need to stay on schedule. Your respect of patients’ time will gain the same respect for your time. Do your best to understand the times necessary for each procedure and each appointment. Stay within that time frame. If you are ten minutes past the patient’s scheduled time, acknowledge this to the patient. You will offset some negativity if you will graciously accept the responsibility for the delay. For example: “Mrs. Jones, Dr. Jameson has needed to spend more time with his patient than he had anticipated. He would certainly do the same for you. It will be approximately ten minutes before he can see you. Thanks so much for your patience Can I get you anything – water, a new before-and-after album to look through?”

(2) IMPROPER SCHEDULING OF TIME

One of the most critical aspects of excellent scheduling is having a clear identification of doctor time/assistant time/decontamination of room time. Having this information clearly identified in the appointments gives the scheduling coordinator clear guidelines for the following:

  • When the doctor is captive
  • When the assistants are captive
  • Length of time the room will be occupied
  • Length of time the patient will be in the office.

Take one staff meeting and dedicate this meeting to the designing of procedure-analysis sheets. These sheets will identify the following:

  • The steps of each procedure
  • Who’s doing what
  • How long each step of a procedure takes.

With this information, the scheduling coordinator can properly interface one appointment with another. Then you can:

  • Practice excellent time management
  • Maximize the skills of each team member
  • Prevent patients from spending too long at an appointment because of inappropriate scheduling.

Use a procedure-analysis sheet to provide your scheduling coordinator with the data he or she will need to appropriately engineer each appointment. Remember, these are NOT written in concrete! However, they will prove to be an excellent roadmap.

(3) WRONG SOFTWARE OR INSUFFICIENT TRAINING

Use an appointment system with 10-minute units. High tech dentistry and the excellent talent and skill of assistants allow for more efficient management of time. Be careful selecting your appointmentmanagement software and, once selected, maximize training so your scheduling coordinator can provide succinct planning for each active chair.

(4) EMERGENCIES

Placing the coding for the doctor and the assistant in the appointment system will show you where you can schedule emergencies. Emergency patients need to be seen as quickly as possible. However, you do not want emergencies to have a negative effect on your regularly scheduled patients.

Therefore, emergencies (for the most part) should be palliative. Do a quick analysis, prescribe the necessary x-ray, get the patient comfortable and reschedule for the appropriate time. There areexceptions, of course, if you and the patient have the necessary time and if the patient is comfortable with the financial responsibility, you’ll certainly want to proceed with treatment.

Cathy Jameson is founder and CEO of Jameson Management, an international comprehensive coaching firm. As a speaker, she offers fun, entertaining and educational programs packed with decades of proven practice management systems. Cathy and her team of 20+ coaches have lectured and consulted with dental professionals in 26 countries. Cathy’s firm has changed thousands of lives through not only speaking and coaching but books, CDs, DVDs and other products.