“You can’t tell people what to do!”
Years ago, this is what one of our client’s Schedule Coordinators told their Office Manager when she asked why a patient was scheduled for a primary procedure late in the afternoon; as opposed to the morning, you know, during Primary Time.
It was illuminating for the Office Manager, and sadly the Schedule Coordinator (who was making numerous other errors to boot), did not last through the end of the month.
Which brings us to the crux of this post: can you tell people “What to do?” Or “when to come” as it applies to your schedule?
Well, it depends on what type of practice you want to run. I’ve seen plenty of new clients arrive at MGE working five or more days a week, evenings, some Saturdays, etc., and producing a third or less of what they would eventually produce (working fewer hours with a more efficient schedule), within 3-6 months.
And inevitably, these newer clients who are working 50-60 hours a week have plenty of open time in the mornings and early afternoons.
Digging into the “why” behind the long hours, it normally comes back to:
- The doctor doesn’t want to “miss out” on any patients or new patients, and losing them to their competition.
- “Patients only want to come in on the evenings and weekends.” Essentially, patients are running the schedule.
And these long hours take their toll not only on the dentist in the form of less time with their family and reduced career satisfaction. It can also adversely affect the business. Being open so long, you end up with a ton of overtime (so your overhead suffers), or you have to stagger your staff’s schedule, which blows up team cohesion.
The basic misconception behind all of this is that this is how the doctor “has to” run their schedule in order to support their business. It’s just not true.
So, the question is, how do you transition from a 5-6 day a week schedule with tons of openings to a four-day a week operation that’s more productive and scheduled efficiently – e.g. blocked time for production, deliveries, case presentations, etc.?
While you’d want to phase over from what you have now to this intelligently, it’s really a simple matter of just doing it. That’s not to say you won’t have to polish up some of your skills and reorganize a few things to make it work, but it’s not as complex as you might think. And to that end, here are 5 points that can help you make this transition.
1. YOUR SCHEDULE: Decide what you want your schedule to look like. I’d dig deep on this one, when is “primary” time – e.g. when do you do large procedures? Most dentists like to do this in the mornings. You could also switch it up one day a week if you like and do primary time one afternoon a week (the rest of the week in the morning). And make sure you build time in to present treatment. The most important aspect of this is what do YOU, the doctor WANT. That personal decision goes a long way. Otherwise, you’re doing what you DON’T want – in your own business – which defeats the entire idea of WHY you’d own a business in the first place! To help construct your schedule, I’d suggest one of two things: You can attend our free virtual “Art of Scheduling Productively Seminar,” or sign up for our online platform DDS Success and watch the Scheduling Coordinator Training Course.
2. SCHEDULING POLICY: Once you have an idea of HOW you want to roll, you need to set some rules. This would be your policy. Writing policy is a lot easier than you think. Don’t worry that it’s not “beautifully” written either. If it’s clear, concise, and explains what you want, then you’re good to go. This is truly a case where something is better than nothing. If your staff can read and understand it, you’re on your way. Your policy should explain how your schedule works, when to schedule different types of procedures (primary, secondary, emergencies, new patients, etc.), and so on. You can get a few ideas here: Dr. Winteregg’s Scheduling Policies – Part 1.
3. SCHEDULING PROCEDURE: This is the “biggie.” How you schedule people. And that’s what that Scheduling Coordinator from my earlier example had a difficult time with. You’re in the service business. You’re not selling a “thing” that someone would buy based on the virtue of the product itself. Your team has to be able to effectively and politely handle people (your patients). This is a combination of the right attitude, willingness, and communication skills. The problem with that Scheduling Coordinator was her attitude was all wrong for the job. Of course, you can tell people what to do, if you do it nicely, and with good understanding. It happens all the time. If I go to Disney World, I’m told where to park, where to enter, etc. If I see my dentist, they tell me when to be there. Sure maybe they give me a couple of options – but who decided which options to give? They did. You must run your schedule – not your patients. And that’s not to take away anything from your patients, but they’re not intimately informed about what’s going on in your business.
Sure, offer options as to when to come but make it an easy decision. If I’m looking for a Monday morning appointment, and I’m given two different times to choose from that’s easy. Asking me when on Monday I want to come in with nothing further is giving me way too much latitude. You might think it’s good customer service – but it’s actually not. This gets even more important when you want to limit when the patient is coming based on the type of procedure. For example: let’s say I need six crowns, which per your office policy, you would only prep during Primary Time, which is the mornings in your office. How might that conversation go? Well, let’s look at it:
SCHEDULER: “Jeff, when do you want to come in?”
ME: “Evenings are best.”
SCHEDULER: “Oh wow, we’re really booked in the evenings through August, can you come any other time?”
ME: “Let me check my schedule and get back to you.”
Maybe try this:
SCHEDULER: “Jeff, the doctor only does this type of procedure in the mornings [which the doctor also told the patient when presenting the case], I have an 8 AM appointment available on Wednesday, would that work?”
ME: “I’d rather do it later in the day. I don’t want to miss work.”
SCHEDULER: “I totally understand. For this type of procedure though, the doctor only does them earlier in the day, it’s what she’s found is best. Would it be possible for you to go to work later, after the appointment on Wednesday?”
ME: “Yeah, I can do that.”
It might go something like this, or may be easier to handle. Or maybe I would have needed another date or time. Wednesday wouldn’t work but Thursday at 11 might have. The difference is the Scheduler would control when I would be coming in. With the right attitude, good communication, and good manners, this is easy to accomplish. And sure, not everyone is going to comply, but most people will. And again, that Scheduling Coordinator Training Course on DDS Success gets into ALL of this. It’s extremely thorough.
4. CASE ACCEPTANCE: You can’t do treatment a patient doesn’t accept. And case acceptance (the quality of) is the key determining factor for your practice’s expansion and income (and not to mention most importantly, patients getting the treatment that they need)! Good case acceptance goes a long way to crafting an efficient and productive schedule. If I were you, I’d get educated on the subject at MGE’s Communication and Sales Seminars.
5. TEAM COHESION: I can’t stress enough how a tighter schedule with everyone there at the same time can positively affect your practice. To that end, I had a client a few years back with a super productive practice that was open five days a week and didn’t have to be. The staff schedules were staggered to avoid incurring overtime. We switched things around and brought it down to four days, with the entire team all there at the same time. Production went up by 20%, expenses went down, and everyone was happier!
I hope all this helps. It’s not only possible to realize your vision for your practice, it’s a lot easier than you might think. And we’d love to help! And again, if you have any questions about this or anything else, feel free to reach out. You can request a free consultation with us here or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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