From my coaching work with dentists -- and as a full-time practicing dentist myself -- I can tell you that your schedule is the one thing that can cause stress and anxiety, be profitable or profitless, make going to work a joy or pure hell, and cause frustration and disappointment for patients, team members, and doctors alike.
You know this because we "live and die" by our schedule every working day. Minutes can make the difference between happy clients or angry clients, between providing excellent treatment or mediocre treatment. That extra minute you could have had with that client to deepen your relationship with them can mean they'll stay with you or find someone else. A day full of "fillings" can leave you exhausted but maybe paying the bills, and a day of crown and bridge deliveries can leave you in the red.
Those practices that have mastered scheduling for greatest productivity and the least stress have the happiest team, most satisfied clients, and the least amount of fatigue and wear to the doctor and the treating staff.
How can you gain absolute control of your schedule and reap the benefits you deserve?
- Train your clients. It's "The American Way" to have it "our" way by being demanding, outspoken, and downright disrespectful, so clients have to learn that we're not in the airline business. We don't double-book, and we stay organized and committed to our scheduled clients for a multitude of reasons. Yes, they will say anything they can think of to get on your schedule at a time that suits them. Train your team to stay calm, focused, and respectful -- and at the same time, firm and flexible. I call it being "rigidly flexible."
- Teach your team great communication skills.Of course, you need them first. Do you personally "own" these skills? Your team really needs to be taught how to ask great questions, how to say "yes" without compromising the schedule, how to make a person feel heard, and many more things. Being an expert communicator takes training, practice, and more practice.
- Use schedule blocks.I know you've heard that before, and it is true. What's a "schedule block"? Simply put, it's times during the day that you've earmarked for certain procedures or types of procedures; this also goes for the team's hygienists. For example, do you REALLY want to do that molar endodontic procedure at 4:30 p.m.? Sure, there are times we have to be "rigidly flexible" and see someone in need at a time that we're not at our best. But good patient management and treatment planning can avoid nearly all of these situations.
- Schedule for even productivity.When your team's schedule (you're part of the team!) is scheduled for your goal for a certain day, don't add more clients to that day's schedule; schedule them in the future. This will allow you time to do the many other tasks besides direct client care that are needed to keep your practice running like a fine sports car. Know your daily goal!
- Allow time in your day for dental "urgencies." Really, there are few dental emergencies, aren't there? Your team should know what a true dental emergency is so they can make quick decisions for the client's care. Otherwise, have 30 minutes blocked early in the morning and late in the day to place a client with an urgent concern.
- Teach your team proper words to use with clients. Examples: urgency vs. emergency; concern vs. problem; schedule vs. "get you in"; confirm or reserve vs. "we've got you down". There are pages of "bad habit lingo" to stop saying to your clients.
- Offer a morning appointment and an afternoon appointment only. Why? Most people will choose one of the two at the time you give them. If neither will work, ask if a morning or afternoon appointment will work best for them, then offer only one more appointment at a time. Additionally, you can start out by asking if they prefer morning or afternoon appointments and offer two different times that way, then proceed by offering only one more at a time if one of the first two isn't taken. Whatever happens, don't ask a client when they would like to come!
- Let one person be in charge of the schedule! Please, let your team do the scheduling, with one person having the ultimate responsibility of making sure everything is correct, as long as they completely understand the parameters and have the skills that they need to handle the schedule properly. Teach them what you want, and then stay out of the way.
- Avoid becoming the "toothache doctor" of your town. When you provide treatment for a client the same day that they call, you're training them to do many things you may not be aware of. For one, you're teaching them (indirectly) not to seek treatment until they're having trouble. Second, most clients are not necessarily aware of how much treatment will cost, and your team (or you) will not have time to make necessary arrangements for payment. Third, how is your team to know how much time to schedule for someone's problem? Most clients do not have a clue about what the problem is, what's needed to fix it, and how much the treatment will cost. This is certainly an area that causes loads of undue stress for everyone, from you to the assistants to your business office. Diagnose the problem, discuss treatment options, render palliative care (if needed), and let your team schedule the client with the proper amount of time, according to your schedule blocks, after financial arrangements have been made, and at a time that will work also for the client.
- Discuss the day's schedule at a team meeting each morning. Everyone MUST be on the same page and know what's going on. Otherwise, chaos is inevitable. Coordinate how the day will flow, then relax and enjoy it.
Put the necessary time into gaining control of your schedule and you'll reduce your stress and anxiety and be able to enjoy your practice much, much more. If necessary, get the help you need to make your schedule work for you. The amount of effort you're willing to put into taming your schedule will pay huge dividends -- both tangibly and intangibly!
Dr. Deems is a professional personal and business coach and a practicing dentist. For the 7th year in a row, he was named to Dentistry Today's Top Leaders list and is the author of several books, the most recent titled "The Dentist's Coach: Build a Vibrant Practice and the Life You Want." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 501-413-1101.