The Most Important Reason to Keep Your Schedule Running Smoothly
By: Laura Hatch
The difference between a good day and a bad day in most dental offices is dependent on how the schedule runs. In fact, the schedule impacts the day from the very first moment it begins, when you hear the messages and there are cancellations or when the phone starts to ring and the patient on the other end says they are running late. From the start, no matter how great of a mood the doctor and team were experiencing when they walked into the office, it’s likely to change very quickly as the schedule changes. In fact, I know many dentists who say their mood at the end of the day is a direct result of how the day ran. Was it productive? How stressful was it? Did the patients and procedures run on time? The tyranny of the schedule is a fact of life in most dental offices.
How can a piece of paper (or these days, a chart on your computer screen) hold such power over the dental team? The reason the schedule has such an impact on the team is that it truly affects everyone. I’m not just talking about mood, but also how each person gets their job done and whether the team gets to go to lunch on time—or, some days, if they get lunch at all.
Running behind in any area of the practice may not always be directly related to the details of one person’s job, yet a delay in the schedule typically adds stress and chaos to the entire office. Again, it can make for a great day, when it runs the way it should (which unfortunately is not very often), or it can be the cause for a not-so-great day, which is more typical than not.
Most of what I’ve stated so far is a topic of agreement among most dental professionals. We all know that the schedule runs the office, whether that means it lets us cross the finish line with a triumph for the day or it runs us all ragged trying to make up for delays. But we often overlook the impact of schedule changes on the most important people in the office: our patients.
This might seem obvious, but I am going to challenge all of us to consider exactly how much the schedule impacts customer service and our long-term relationship with a specific patient, as well as their decision to refer friends and family to us… or not. Think about it. The patient schedules time in their day to come to our office and typically that means taking away from their own work or other responsibilities to take care of their dental health. They are told they can expect to be in the office for a certain amount of time. What if that doesn’t match what actually happens?
I could tell dozens of true stories about how the reality was much different from what the patient was told. What if we ask them to show up on time for their appointment, but we are not running on time and they have to wait 20 minutes before they are even taken back to a chair? What about when we tell the patient that a “brief” appointment will only take 30 minutes, but they arrive when the team is still running around trying to get everyone seen and the patient ends up being there 90 minutes? What kind of day do you think this creates for the patient? And more specifically for our team and our office long-term? How do you suppose the patient will feel about their experience? What do you think they will say to others about it? “Sure, Dr. Jones is great and the team members are all really friendly, but they always seem to be running behind and my appointments take too long. Maybe they are too overwhelmed to handle any new referrals. You and I should both try that new dentist down the street instead.”
Having a well-run schedule is important in terms of an office running smoothly and hopefully being productive, but there are other benefits too. The two that stand out most for me are the well-being of our team members and the impression that we make on our patients. In fact, those two elements are strongly connected to each other. You will have a happier, less stressed, more productive team that enjoys going to work if they know they are walking in each day to an office that has control over their day. They know that issues will arise but there is a plan in place for how to handle those issues. The culture of the office will be less stressful and more fun, which will not only benefit your employees but ultimately your patients, as they sense the quality of the environment when they are in the office. They can tell when your team is enjoying work or when they are not, no matter how much your team and doctor may try to hide it.
Aside from being more likely to return to an office that feels fun and relaxing, it’s important for patients to feel that their time is respected and valued. Patients take time out of their day to come to the office for an agreed-upon amount of time, and when the office can get them in and out on time, they appreciate it and have a better experience. Remember, patients don’t know how to judge an office on clinical skill, but they absolutely know how they feel when they are in the office and they will tell others about it—bad or good.
What I want to leave you with is that when you hear over and over again about the importance of having a well-run schedule, it is not necessarily only about numbers and production. Of course, high production is one of the best outcomes that can come from having a great scheduling policy and system. Ultimately, however, keeping the schedule running smoothly is about creating an environment where everyone will feel they are under control and being taken care of, including the entire dental team and the patients. Stress levels will go down and the experience for everyone will improve. Every dental office will continue to have issues each day that may mess up their schedule, but an office with a strong scheduling policy and plan is one that will know exactly what to do to get back on track, so you can finish the day on time and feeling good. And who wouldn’t want that?
Laura Hatch is known worldwide as the Leader in Dental Front Office Solutions and Training. A keynote speaker, author and coach, Laura is best known as the founder of Front Office Rocks™, a virtual training platform for dental teams. Front Office Rocks™ offers virtual training in all areas of the dental office and teaches exceptional customer service.
Using non-traditional methods, Laura loves to help dental teams learn the systems and methods to achieve unprecedented results. She has become a mentor to the dental industry. She created the Front Office Rocks™ training program to help take
dentists and their teams to the next level.
The Metro Denver Dental Society is a not-for-profit component society of the American Dental Association and the Colorado Dental Association.