For many dentists, summer is often the busiest time. Students are off school, which means families are trying to schedule appointments when everyone is home. Adult patients tend to have more flexibility in their schedules. Regardless of whether you’re a general practitioner or a specialist, when your office gets hectic, what are you doing to ensure you and your staff are still efficient and productive?
Increase Hygiene Production
Most of the summer appointments in a general or pediatric dentist’s office are check-ups. If you have the space, add another hygiene chair and add hygiene staff, even part-time. Consider adding Saturday hours for hygiene appointments. Finally, make sure your hygiene appointments begin with a complete oral health exam, then the cleaning. This means that any screening, photos, or medical history updates are done first and can be processed during the cleaning.
Cross-Train Dental Assistants
When possible and permitted by law, train dental assistants to perform expanded duties and have them work with hygiene as much as possible. If you don’t have the time to train your assistants, consider having an instructor from your local dental school train your staff during off hours. Who else do you know who could train your dental assistants in key duties like taking x-rays or making impressions? Call on your referring orthodontist or lab tech and have your assistant spend time shadowing the specialist.
Monitor and Adjust Processes
It’s especially important during busy season to monitor scheduling and workload. Enforce a (somewhat) strict late policy for patients to avoid back-ups, and train front desk staff on how to have these conversations with patients ahead of time. Know how long it takes to see patients and what issues are creating bottlenecks, like room set up and tear down, sterilizing instruments between patients, and how much time a procedure really takes to complete.
Another area of process management that merits discussion is how your practice handles emergency visits. Don’t let an emergency dental exam throw off an entire day. Have a process – perhaps a set time each day for emergency patients or building in extra time throughout some appointments to create time for emergencies, if needed. Also decide who will treat emergency patients and your philosophy on whether you treat non-patient emergencies.
Fill the Pipeline
It’s tempting to ignore marketing to new patients when you’re already struggling to maintain the appointments you have. However, historically most dental practices are slower in the fall months. Use the summer months to reach out to new patients, schedule their initial exams, and then follow up with any treatment plans in the fall. This will alleviate some of the uneven cash flow problems that plague many practices and ensure a steady flow of new patients year-round.
Finally, schedule any lengthy summer vacations for you and your staff well in advance. Some practices even have policies that discourage staff from taking extended vacations during the busy months. Whatever your policy, make sure your staff knows what it is and that you are diligent about enforcing it. There are few things more difficult than being short-staffed during a non-stop day of patient appointments.
For more information on dental practice management, contact the original Dental CPAs here.