5 Ways to Make Your Clinic More Child-Friendly

Of all the different kinds of patients that a dental clinic serves, perhaps none are as precious as children. This is true in terms of the opportunity for early intervention and the value these patients can bring to a clinic. 

Because appealing to children is also a great way to appeal to their parents, there are clear benefits to tailoring your service to this demographic. Some clinics even go so far as to use child centered service as one of the ways they manage practice differentiation – parents are much more likely to visit a clinic if it explicitly markets itself as being kid-friendly.

To make your clinic more open to children, here are five strategies that I have personally seen succeed in clinics across the country. 

1. Recognize the Unique Needs of Child Patients

Children aren’t like adult patients: not only do they have unique needs in terms of the dental care they require, they also have unique service needs. Making your clinic child-friendly starts with recognizing the fact that children need highly individual treatment.  

One  practical way you can accomplish this is by using dental software that allows you to quickly and easily store information about young patients’ needs so that it is immediately visible once an appointment has been booked.

This helps you provide great service and makes it easier for your receptionists and hygienists to prepare accordingly.

2. Provide Child-Specific Training for Staff

Getting your team to understand how the needs of children differ from the needs of adults is absolutely essential. And while your dentists and hygienists will have been trained on the technical aspects of caring for young mouths, treating children also requires training in how to relate to and communicate with them when they may not be able to respond in detailed or specific ways.

It’s essential when talking to children that you avoid using medical jargon to keep your words a simple as possible so children are more likely to understand you and feel encouraged to respond and communicate back in turn. However, you still need to use care when speaking with children because they may not be using their communication skills to their fullest out of fear of dental procedures in general. Quietly coax them into talking, showing them that there’s no reason to be afraid.

With older children, it’s important you do not treat them as babies, but rather as young adults as much as possible. Of course, you’ll need to consider the age of each child patient and adjust your speech to meet his or her needs.

Make sure also to keep your tone of voice measured and soft. Especially when you’re using tools that can sometimes be painful, a soothing tone of voice will do wonders for abating your child patients’ level of fear. Ensure that your entire staff keeps the collective tone consistent. This will help children understand that everyone is there to care for them and make them feel safe.

3. Appealing to Kids Means Appealing to Parents

Whether or not you retain a young family as patients will undoubtedly be influenced by the experience the child has – but the final decision will, of course, be made by the parent. This means that making your clinic more child-centered also means appealing to their parents.

You can accomplish this by creating a space that is welcoming and accessible and by providing parents the opportunity to book or reschedule appointments quickly – via mobile app or text, for example.

4. Use Positive Reinforcement to Reduce Dental Fear

As every experienced dentists knows, dental anxiety is an issue for patients of all ages. But it is a special concern when working with children, who aren’t as able to regulate or manage their fear of pain or discomfort that may be associated with visiting the dentist.

Put special effort into positive reinforcement for younger patients that will help them to associate visits to the dentist with pleasant experiences like fun cartoons or after-treatment treats.

5. Make Your Reception Area Dynamic

We’ve all visited clinics where the only gesture toward accommodating children is a small bucket of second-hand toys and no room for kids to play with them. If you want parents to feel comfortable bringing their kids to your clinic, you need to put some real thought into making your reception area kid-friendly.

Fortunately, it’s easy to find affordable and fun designs online that can help you communicate to patients that your clinic takes the needs of children (and their parents!) seriously. 

Children are not going to be a key demographic for every dental clinic. But even if young people don’t make up the majority of your patient base, your practice will still benefit by being as inclusive as possible. For this reason, adopting some of these strategies for making your clinic appeal to your littlest patients is a great way of showing that you offer an open and welcoming space to patients of all ages. 

How to Foster a Culture of Lifelong Learning at Your Dental Clinic

One of the things that makes dentistry such an exciting industry to work in is the fact that, just like the software industry, the field is constantly changing.

As new research turns up new information, and new software creates new service possibilities, dentistry continues to evolve to provide patients with better care. This means that dental professionals need to regularly upgrade their skills so they can take advantage of new breakthroughs. 

Lifelong learning – continuing education in one’s field – can pay off in a number of key ways.

Enhancing Skill Set

There’s evidence to suggest a direct correlation between learning and improved efficacy in the workplace – after all, learning is much like exercise for the brain. Studies show that continuing education leads to more efficiency, lower rates of absenteeism and equips those continuing to build their skill set with a better ability to meet the demands of a fast-paced workplace (like a busy dental clinic).

Earning Potential

Out of all the benefits continuing education offers, a boost to earning power is one of the most tangible. The good news is that continuous education can often be accessed online which provides a convenient way for busy professionals to build their skill sets.

Curiosity Booster

Many psychologists view curiosity as a crucial factor to happiness, intellectual growth, and overall mental health and well-being. But as we get older, we tend to let everyday tasks and pressures block out or overshadow our naturally curious natures. Continuing education allows to us to tap back into that curiosity, leading to an improvement in mental health and sense of self.

Collaboration Opportunity

Continuous learning encourages collaboration, plain and simple. Whether through actual group work in a classroom setting, learning new software in an online community or shadowing a supervisor in the workplace, collaborative skills are naturally nurtured.

But while most dentists understand the importance of ongoing training in theory, it can be difficult to put this into practice.  It isn’t always easy to stay up-to-date when you have multiple commitments and priorities and it can be even more difficult to ensure that the rest of your staff participate in regular training sessions.

If you are passionate about providing high quality care to your patients, your staff need to be equipped  to use the newest information and the latest techniques. Normalizing regular, ongoing training and lifelong learning as part of the culture of your dental clinic is key.

Here are four ways you can get started.

1. Don’t Make Training a Special Event

When it comes to scheduling training, one of the most common mistakes clinic owners make is trying to fit a year’s worth of education into a weekend retreat. While training can seem like a disruption of the everyday running of the clinic, cramming a lot of learning into a short period of time is simply ineffective and can be a waste of resources.

Numerous studies have shown that training is most effective when it takes place on a regular basis, giving trainees the opportunity to regularly review new information and incorporate learning into day-to-day life. Making training a regular part of your clinic’s schedule increases the likelihood that you will be able to keep it up over the long run. 

2. Incentivize Learning

If nothing else lifelong learning in healthcare is important to simply remain competent – in a fast-moving industry like dentistry, if you aren’t moving forward you’re going back.

Your clinic benefits from having hygienists, assistants, and receptionists who are staying up-to-date on the latest customer service methods and dental procedures, so it only makes sense to incentivize education. Paid time for training and making regular training a prerequisite for advancement are ways to give your staff a reason to commit themselves to developing their skills and knowledge. 

3. Model Good Learning Habits

Your staff look to you for leadership in all areas of work. For example, if you as head of the clinic want to adopt new practices like going paperless,  start by explaining the rationale and what the benefits will be for the entire team. 

The same is true of learning. If your staff can see that you are constantly updating your credentials, following new research, and improving your own knowledge of patient care and patient service, they will be more likely to value these things themselves and respond accordingly.

4. Invest in Learning

When it comes to employee training, the two biggest obstacles will always be time and resources. Most clinics are good about finding time for training staff on new software because this has an immediate practical implication – it’s when it comes to big picture stuff that things get difficult.

You need every hand on deck to help with patients during business hours and staff may be reluctant to pursue work-related tasks on evenings, days off or weekends. The simplest way to deal with this challenge is to schedule some training during regular hours rather than paying overtime. Your staff will be less likely to suffer from burnout and the return on investment should outweigh any lost patient revenue.    

The importance of ongoing education for healthcare workers – and dental workers especially – cannot be overstated. By holding regular training sessions, incentivizing learning, modelling good behaviour, and investing in learning management software for dental clinics, you are making lifelong learning an integral part of your clinic’s work culture.

Why Dental Clinics Need to Invest in SEO

Why Dental Clinics Need to Invest in SEO

As someone who works in the world of dental software, I regularly talk to dentists about the importance of having a robust web presence and using the best web-based tools to help bring in patients and build patient loyalty. One term that frequently comes up in these conversations is SEO or Search Engine Optimization – specifically, what it is and whether dental clinics need to worry about it.

In recent years SEO has become one of the most important tools for helping businesses of any kind stand out from the crowd online. That’s why in this article, I’m going to explain how SEO works and how it can help your dental clinic generate awareness, secure more patients and retain the patients you already have.

SEO In A Nutshell

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic (site visits resulting from people who find you via search engines rather than through paid ads) search engine results.

How SEO Works

Most already know that when a person types a word/phrase into Google (or another search engine) its algorithms help that person find the content they are seeking by ranking each “match” based on its relevance to the search word/phrase typed.

The other side of this coin is that if you want your dental practice’s website to show up on the first search engine results page (SERP), you will need to convince Google and other search engines that your website contains content that matches the searcher’s needs.

To understand this better, let’s say someone types the words “Toronto dental clinic” into Google and then sees hundreds of potential matches. Google or the search engine they used has already decided which matches are the most reliable based on several factors:

Domain Authority – Having lots of relevant and engaging content on your website will make you appear more authoritative to Google and increase the chances that people who are looking for your product or service will find you instead of your competition.

Stand out from the crowd! Feature content on your website like dental health articles, patient testimonials and interviews with your staff to generate a sense of expertise and great customer service.

Backlink Quantity and Quality – A backlink is any link on another website that points to your website. Backlinks drive organic traffic to you, helping more people find your practice. Backlinks also “tell” search engines that others vouch for the information contained on your site – this makes them very valuable for SEO.

So encourage backlinks! The more expert content you feature, the more likely others will link to you as an authority.

Organic Traffic – It’s important to track how much organic traffic you’re getting month by month so that you can learn which of your SEO tactics are working best. For example, if you feature a guest blog post and you see your metrics surge, consider repeating the tactic.

Guest blog posts and engaging videos are two great ways to boost your organic traffic. To keep track of everything, use everyone’s favourite online tool – Google Analytics.

SEO In More Depth

This video from GoDaddy explains how SEO works and how a good SEO strategy can help you improve your web presence, which in turn helps improve your Google rankings.

A good SEO strategy often requires that you improve other aspects of your web presence as well. Examples of this are your use of social media, your number of reviews and your mentions on other web pages. Many dental clinics hire an SEO professional to help them develop an SEO strategy.

How SEO Helps You Get New Patients

A by-product of a well-thought-out SEO strategy is that it makes your overall web presence more robust and impressive. Remember, patients are far more likely to visit a clinic if it has an extensive online presence that can help them learn about it before they book an appointment. 

In addition to boosting your SEO, regular social media/blog posts and having lots of well-curated online reviews helps show potential patients that your clinic provides top quality service.

Note: Google algorithms are constantly being updated to make them more effective so it is important to be aware of emerging trends so you can maintain a strong SEO strategy.

How SEO Helps with Patient Retention

Patient retention is a major concern across the healthcare industry – doctors, dentists, and rehab practitioners all need to ensure that they take steps to keep the patients they already have.

Investing in good SEO will help build confidence in your current patients by demonstrating the ways that you are staying competitive with other clinics in your area. Coupled with cutting edge patient communication software that helps make appointment booking and patient information exchange more convenient, a good SEO strategy helps keep your patients engaged with your clinic online and more likely to return for their next appointment.

This is especially important if you operate in an area with plenty of other clinics around. Remember, patients can easily be convinced to move to a rival clinic if they feel it is making a better pitch or seems more responsive to their needs.

We live in a digital age and just about every dentist I talk to understands that having a robust web presence is essential to maintaining and expanding his or her patient base. To succeed against your competition, develop a good website and follow an SEO strategy that helps people find your site first when they’re looking for care.

Easily Produce New Reports and Dental Practice Metrics with these Productivity Tools

You’ve probably viewed hundreds of reports by now from your dental practice management software – production totals, collections, receivables, and maybe even a missed appointment list if possible. (In a recent blog, I provided samples of these types of standard reports as well as specific transaction tracking features that are essential for running a well-informed, financially successful practice.)

Yet, have you ever wished you could change the format of some of your reports or wondered whether you should be getting more out of the software that’s holding so much practice data in its database? This blog will address these issues by outlining some external reporting methodologies you can employ to shed new light on how your practice is performing.

1. Enhancing Your System’s Standard Reports

One of the limitations of the standard reports is that the output format is essentially fixed – what you see is what you get. As a first step to producing more revealing reports, contact your dental software vendor to find out whether you can export your report data to a folder on your computer. If so, you should be able to view the folder’s file content in other programs such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel.

With a little knowledge of these applications, you will be able to perform additional calculations on your practice data and benefit from using news ways of presenting the results. For example, with Excel you can get sums or count totals for any chosen set of data and that can give additional context to the original standard report. You can also use Excel or Word to format the report according to your preference. Let’s look at a simple example to illustrate the possibilities:

From the above example, you can see that the same data from a standard report can be used to provide metrics with additional context. In this case, after utilizing the capabilities of Excel we now have a patient count well as the total and average production by provider.

In short, your practice management software still performs the work of gathering and compiling the data but by using these powerful productivity tools, you can produce new metrics that help you better manage your practice.

2. Visual Reporting with Power BI

Would you like to go a step further by transforming your practice data into easy to read visual reports?

Microsoft Power BI is a business analytics platform that can monitor and read the important data from your dental software database. It provides tools to quickly analyze, transform and visualize data into meaningful reports, key performance indicators (KPIs) and dashboards.

Note: You will need some basic Power BI training and assistance from your software vendor to ensure you extract the data you require. Here are two sample reports that illustrate the possibilities:

3. The I’m not that Technical” way of producing KPIs

If you don’t want to invest time learning how to use the above mentioned tools to produce the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you need, don’t fret.

With a few simple manual calculations you can likely produce at least some of the customized reports that you require.Below is a list of financial based KPIs I mentioned in a previous blog:

In short, the exercise involves manually extracting one or more numbers from the relevant standard reports and then performing simple calculations as described in the above chart. For a list of Operational KPIs, check out this previous blog and for Patient Satisfaction/Service Level based KPIs, try this blog.

In summary, your ability to extract the information you need and produce the metrics for running a better practice depends on four main factors:

  • Your comfort level for using the productivity tools at your disposal
  • The number and quality of the standard reports your dental software produces
  • The ability to extract information from your dental software database
  • The degree of assistance you receive from your software vendor

On a parting note, simply producing dental practice metrics is not enough. To compete in today’s dental marketplace you need to compare your results to industry benchmarks. And, then make corresponding behavioural and operational adjustments in areas where you are not satisfied to improve those results – but that’s a blog for another day! 

Dental Clinical Charting Features To Look For

Have you decided to bite the bullet and replace your paper patient charts with electronic ones? Or, have you already done this and are disappointed with the results?

First let’s quickly review why it’s still a good decision and then look at what software features are essential to make electronic charting work as smoothly as possible.   

The Benefits of Electronic Clinical Records

Fully electronic patient records consist of four main components:

  1. Restorative History – pre-existing conditions, new conditions and restorative treatment
  2. Periodontal History – pre-existing conditions and periodontal condition over time
  3. Clinical Notes – recording of observations, medical conditions/history, additional factors and recommendations
  4. Recommended treatment plan/s

Here’s why it makes sense to store all of the above electronically:

  • Full Patient Record Integration – Administrative (already in electronic form), and clinical information can work in concert to enable optimal treatment outcomes, streamlined workflows and improved communication – this synergy is simply not possible with unconnected, multiple paper systems.
  • Accessibility – The patient record is available at any place on the network and can’t be misplaced like paper charts.
  • More Complete and Legible Records – Electronic information promotes more thorough and legible recordkeeping without the investment of extra time.
  • Labour Savings – Pulling, organizing and refiling patient charts is no longer required.
  • Space Savings – Electronic systems free up valuable space for more productive use.
  • Reduced Costs – This saves the money formerly spent on labour, paper charts, stationary and storage.
  • Increased Security – Electronic charts can be backed up and protected from catastrophic events.
  • Longer-lasting Records – Electronic charts are impervious to wear and tear.
  • Chart Integrity – Electronic charting systems can automatically name, date, and time-stamp entries which ensures data integrity and regulatory compliance.
  • Dynamic records – A new and separate cumulative historical chart is created with each patient visit making easy to see all of the treatment a patient has received. This is more convenient than searching through the sheets in a paper chart.

Getting Started with Electronic Clinical Records

Now that we have confirmed the benefits of electronic clinical records, let’s look at the conversion protocols and system functionality that make the transformation as easy to do as possible.

Quick Method – to save time vetting, all patient paper charts and related clinical documents are digitally scanned and loaded into the practice management software. New transactions are then entered electronically via the interface to the dental software’s graphical representation of the patient dentition (odontogram).  

Analytical Method – The Analytical Method is a stepped approach that starts with the vetting of paper charts to determine which patients are high priority for conversion (typically based on their current level of activity). Similarly, for each patient selected, additional time is spent to determine the essential information to scan for the electronic patient file and which documents can remain archived in their paper file.

To give more context to the odontogram and to reduce the need to refer to the archived paper chart, existing conditions can be plotted on the odontogram prior to adding electronic entries of new transactions.

Assessing Restorative Charting Features

Start by looking for software with odontograms that illustrate the dentition as realistically as possible. Accompanying sidebar icons typically present a comprehensive list of choices for entering graphical representations of existing conditions, planned treatment and completed procedures. Most systems will allow you to simply apply a condition or treatment by clicking the on the appropriate icon and then applicable teeth. Where necessary, additional options should appear for marking surfaces and specifying materials.

Plotting of treatment plans should produce corresponding treatment fee estimates along with the necessary series of required appointments to produce time-saving administrative synergies and ensure chosen treatment plans get scheduled. Similarly, completed work entered on the odontogram should feed the patient ledger for billing and provide the ability to enter payments.

Customizable clinical note templates save time with data entry and ensure key information is entered consistently. Finally, proper chart sign-off protocols should be in place to ensure date integrity and regulatory compliance.

Assessing Perio Charting Features

This function should allow the recording of measurements for all the standard periodontal conditions including recession, pocket depths, attachments, and furcations as well as plot conditions for bleeding, suppuration, plaque, calculus, and mobility.  Users should be able to choose the order in which they would like to enter data.

The ability to compare results over several visits facilitates the evaluation of patient progress. Voice input functionality has the potential to save time and free up staff resources with recording of conditions, but only if the technology employed is sound. If considering this data input option, make sure you view a demonstration to determine if it will be practical to use in the context of your own operatories.

Conclusion

The benefits of moving to electronic clinical records include administrative synergies, cost savings, and increased efficiency and productivity. Before making the transition, it is important to ensure that your practice management system is capable of handling electronic clinical records to your satisfaction and to have buy-in from your dental team. Making the transition does require spending some time and money but the ongoing gains for your practice will far outweigh any initial investment.

The Smile Diet: How Eating Impacts Dental Health

It’s no secret that if you care about dental health, you need to watch what you eat. How many of us remember being told by our parents that candy will rot our teeth or that too much soda leads to cavities?

While it is definitely true that eating too much sugar wreaks havoc on teeth, it isn’t just sweets that we need to watch out for. There are a whole host of other foods that can negatively impact our dental health even if we brush and floss regularly.

In this article, I outline some tips for developing a dental-friendly diet and explore how regular dental care can reduce anxiety about visiting the dentist by boosting a person’s confidence in their dental health. We invite you to share this article with patients, friends and family via your practice website using this link.

Foods to Avoid

The most important rule to follow when eating for dental health is to avoid sugars and starches – or at least to not consume too much of them. This is because these foods feed harmful bacteria that produce acid in your mouth. As the ph level in your mouth drops, these acids will start eating into the enamel protecting your teeth.

If this process goes on long enough, you will get tooth decay to that leads to cavities or even lose teeth altogether. Here is a short list of foods that should only be indulged in sparingly (and if you do, brush as soon as possible afterwards):

  • Sugary drinks (including energy drinks)
  • Hard candy
  • White bread
  • Dried fruits
  • Potato chips
  • Alcohol

Foods that Boost Dental Health

Health isn’t just about avoiding the bad – it is also about increasing your intake of healthy foods that will have a positive impact on your dental health. As Dr. Andrew Greenberger explains in the following video, this means eating more vegetables and fruits that are rich in fibre and vitamin C. Fibre rich foods help to clean your teeth and vitamin C strengthens your gums, making you more resistant to gum disease. 

Many people simply aren’t aware of the right foods to choose. Foods high in fibre and/or vitamins include:

  • Avocado – This super food is different from most other fruits as it is loaded with healthy fats instead of carbs. Avocados are very high in fibre, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E as well as various B vitamins.
  • Raspberries – Raspberries are a highly nutritious fruit and they are positively loaded with both vitamin C and manganese as well as fibre.
  • Bananas – Bananas are an incredible source of source of nutrients across the board, including vitamin C, vitamin B6 as well as potassium.
  • Broccoli – A type of cruciferous vegetable and one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, broccoli is jam-packed antioxidants and powerful cancer-fighting nutrients, as well as vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, B vitamins, iron and potassium. Broccoli also packs a lot more protein, compared to other vegetables.
  • Chia Seeds – Chia seeds are very tiny black seeds that are quite popular in the natural health community and they pack a ton of fibre, along with magnesium, phosphorus and calcium.
  • Sweet Potatoes – This popular tuber that is very filling and happens to have a delicious sweet flavor. On top of providing some fibre, it’s also very high in beta-carotene, B vitamins and various minerals.

Overall, one of the most important minerals to include in your diet is calcium. Calcium helps keep your teeth strong and their enamel resistant to the acids that weaken them and lead to cavities.

But as always, it is important to keep the cardinal rule of dental health in mind – avoid too much sugar when making food choices. Sweetened orange juices or flavoured yoghurts may be a great source of vitamin C or calcium but if they contain added sugar these benefits will be neutralized. 

The Importance of Regular Check Ups

Eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones is a great way to keep your mouth healthy but they are no substitute for regular dental care.

Many people – especially young people – are sometimes reluctant to visit the dentist in part because they are worried that it will hurt or that they will find out they have a cavity.

But the truth is that eating well and maintaining good dental health through diet will only be effective if you are getting regular feedback from your dentist about your overall dental health and what you can do to improve it.

A regular check up will help you catch any potential health issues before they escalate into serious problems and help you stay honest about your diet and how it is impacting your oral health. And, many dental offices are now making it much easier to request or confirm an appointment via text messaging or email so inconvenience is no longer an excuse!

By focusing on eating healthy, vitamin and mineral rich foods that build strong teeth and gums and by scheduling regular dental check ups, you can help ensure that your teeth stay in great shape for years to come.

Appointment Scheduling: The Key to Dental Office Productivity

I recently wrote two blogs that highlight specific practice management software features and how to evaluate them for your practice. First, I talked about the importance of having a robust financial ledger system for efficiently managing transactions. Second, I reviewed the need to efficiently identify and manage outstanding treatment that leads to increased productivity and revenues.

Today, I will follow with appointment scheduling and show how it can help ensure that revenue results from the outstanding work identified. Let’s examine the key features to look for and scheduling protocols (best practices) that are important to consider.

Features to look for include:

  • Links to other administrative functions: Direct links from the patient’s appointment in the schedule to other administrative tasks for fast, efficient workflows.
  • Multiple scheduling views: The ability to configure the number of columns, number of days, grouping of providers, and number of simultaneous appointment book displays.
  • Customizable settings: A range of capabilities for setting appointment time units, colour coding appointment types, setting appointment flags, etc.
  • Openings: The capacity to find openings based on specific selection criteria and also drag and drop appointments into new openings.
  • Appointment flags: Warning flags when scheduling, appointment status tracking (confirmed, arrived, in progress, billed, etc.)
  • Cancellation and missed appointment tracking: Tracking of unfulfilled appointments to ensure rebooking happens (or recommended treatment is sufficiently dealt with)
  • Appointment Request Tracking: The ability to identify when new openings match a patient’s preferred appointment day/time.

Scheduling Protocols

Operational smoothness, the ability to provide optimum care for your patients, and the desire to produce the preferred mix of dentistry each day depends not only on the schedule features identified above but also on implementing one or more of the following scheduling strategies.

1. Schedule toward a specific daily/monthly production goal

Divide the production goal for the month by the number of available provider days per month to determine the daily production goal for scheduling. The daily production goal should then be split between dentist and hygiene (according to desired industry standards, typical split falls within the 70/30 range respectively) so that the optimum mix of the two is scheduled on average over the course of a month.

Defining the daily goal gives the scheduling coordinator guidelines for scheduling the days accordingly based on the fees that various procedures attract. The idea is to have roughly 12 equally productive months to minimize cash flow issues, ensure revenue goals are met and allow for adjustments before it’s too late to react.

2. Determine doctor time and assistant time by procedure then schedule each provider

Rather than simply schedule a dental chair for a specific amount of time depending on procedure, the human resources required to complete the procedure should be considered.

A breakdown of time required for each major procedure by operatory prep time, doctor time, assistant time, and decontamination time is required. By separately scheduling all the resources necessary to complete a procedure rather than just chair time, resources can be used most efficiently. The down side is that defining initial treatment protocols takes time and is not always consistent depending on the patient and scheduling on a regular basis becomes more complex without a well-automated scheduling system.

3. Optimize Appointment Schedule Configuration

It is generally agreed that an appointment book broken down into 10-minute units is preferred to allow for the most efficient scheduling of resources. Using one column per active chair also allows for potential increases in efficiency; similar to the doctor/assistant /chair time model, it becomes much clearer where each provider is/should be during the day. Non-available time for the day should also be reserved for lunch and to accommodate patient emergencies. Colour coding linked to procedures can also be used to easily determine at a glance how the day/week is shaping up compared to appointment goals.

4. Block Availability by Category/Procedure

The simplest way to classify dental procedures is to divide them into two types: Category I for high income or potentially high income-producing procedures and Category II for procedures that generate less income. In general, Category I procedures include crown preps/seats, restorative work, removable dentures, comprehensive and initial exams, and large case consultations. Category II procedures (such as exams, bleaching, toothache relief and bite adjustments) while necessary, are difficult to charge at a very high fee and in some cases are done at no charge. Simply increase the number of categories if using only two categories is too limiting.

Once the categories are defined, determine the preferred daily/weekly mix that will meet your revenue goals and use colour coding on the schedule (if available) as a guide for where a certain type of procedure should be booked in the schedule. If these pre-blocked appointments are not filled within a predetermined period, they can be put back into a general appointments pool.

5. Reduce Cancellations/Missed Appointments

While cancellations and no-shows are a given, there are preventive measures that help a dental practice to reduce them. Patients need to hear that the time is being “reserved” specifically for them. Stress the importance of the procedure so they are left with a feeling of urgency to reserve and keep appointments.

It is also important to communicate that 48-72 hours’ cancellation notice is expected so that someone else can be scheduled in the time slot and that, without adequate notice, a missed appointment fee may be charged. Another effective preventive measure for lessening cancellations and no-shows is confirming appointments with the assistance of automated patient communication tools.

6. Keep a Shortlist to Fill Sudden Openings

Downtime hurts productivity however the impact can be minimized by maintaining a list of patients that are available on short notice. When there is no way to fill a last minute opening dental providers can choose to spend the freed-up time providing services to the patients who do come in or use that time to complete administrative duties.

In summary, a number of scheduling strategies can be employed to reduce downtime, optimize resource utilization, improve productivity, and support revenue targets. The key is to choose the scheduling methodologies that best match your practice philosophy and profile and then ensure your practice management software is capable of implementing the strategies that you want to employ.