Print & Go GuidanceBy Sharon Boyd, MA, RDH
Does it feel like your dental office schedule bottlenecks every morning and afternoon, regardless of what you do or try to stay ahead? Even if you go into the day with a mindset of "staying on schedule," there are still things that may be beyond your control that lead to a domino effect of slowing down operations or processes.
Here are six simple ways to save time and run more efficiently without cutting corners or compromising patient care.
Conduct a Time Study
It's impossible to be more efficient without understanding where your hang-ups occur throughout the day. If you haven't already, conduct a series of time studies for everyone in the practice, from the front desk to the hygienist to each major procedure the dentist performs. This breakdown will show you blocks of time—and how much is needed for specific tasks—so that you can identify which areas need to run more efficiently.
Each task should be recorded with notes and times for what happens during that procedure. For example, a hygienist can write when a patient was seated, how long periodontal charting took to complete, the time needed to take X-rays, and even how long they waited for the dentist to perform an exam.
Time studies allow for better training and updated resources, such as having an assistant document periodontal charting or changing the order of patient flow (asking the dentist to perform the exam before the prophylaxis is complete). These small adjustments can significantly improve appointment efficiency.
All staff members should be trained to assist other departments when needed. Although it shouldn't be necessary every day, cross-training allows team members to support other staff who may be preoccupied with managing an emergency patient, reviewing an extremely long treatment plan, or are out sick. For example, treatment coordinators can learn how to sterilize instruments, seat patients, and take X-rays. Clinical staff can be trained in scheduling and processing payments. Encouraging team members to step in and help one another keeps the entire practice running smoothly and boosts overall workplace morale.
Go Digital with Your Communications
These days, there's no reason why a practice shouldn't be using text alerts for patient confirmation or appointment reminders. Texting allows you to contact scheduled patients outside of business hours when they are more responsive to phone alerts. It's estimated that 9 out of 10 people will read their text messages within the next hour; are many people returning or answering your confirmation phone calls? Imagine the staffing saved when you do not have to physically complete a phone call for each person on the next day's schedule. This resource alone can reduce the strain of staffing shortages most dental practices are currently experiencing.
Re-evaluate Your Equipment
Are there certain procedures that the dentist or hygienist could complete more efficiently if different technology were available? Do current instruments or equipment need to be updated? Are they worn out and need to be updated? Better resources will allow clinicians to work more efficiently. Alternatively, if you look at it from a bigger picture, making the job physically more effortless for a dental practitioner can equate to less time off work (and a longer career) because of repetitive physical strains. Even if an old handpiece "still works," you may find that the added frustration it creates each day would be enough time to fit in another appointment. Rather than focusing on the initial cost of the new equipment, consider the time and monetary savings the investment offers.
Investments in technology can also improve case acceptance rates, particularly when it comes to imaging. Patients who can see 3D scans or enlarged images of their teeth often tend to be more receptive to treatment recommendations, as it allows for co-planning alongside their provider. As they say, "Seeing is believing."
Outsource Your Insurance Responsibilities
If your front desk staff is stretched thin without enough time to devote to the patients you're seeing, consider outsourcing your insurance processes to a secure third-party contractor. Today, many different companies are available—staffed by reputable dental professionals—who can verify insurance benefits, plug breakdowns directly into your office software, and manage claims on your behalf.
Schedule Patients Before They Leave
Before your patient completes their checkout, ensure they are scheduled for a future visit. If they require treatment, schedule them for at least two appointments: their prophylactic visit and their restorative or therapeutic one. If your patient leaves the clinic without scheduling, you will likely spend more time tracking them down and rescheduling them than booking them immediately at checkout.
Where to Start?
While it might not be possible to implement all—or even most—of these six steps into your dental practice, you can certainly begin with one or two of them. For example, cross-training staff and performing time studies can be done anytime and without additional costs. Once you begin to see the "big picture" and identify critical areas where hang-ups occur, you can quickly adapt to conquer those roadblocks or invest in more efficient ways to streamline overall office operations without changing your practice hours or hiring new staff.
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Author: Sharon Boyd, MA, RDH, has over 20 years of experience in the dental industry and is the founder of DentaSpeak, LLC. In addition to being a registered hygienist, she serves as a full-time patient education professional with a special interest in strategic dental communications. She often works as a liaison between practitioners and patients, bridging the gap between care needs and patient concerns. Sharon is an Ironman band mom and enjoys volunteering at her family's church.