You say that production has “crashed.” Maybe you don’t have enough high-yield appointments scheduled.
If that’s the case, this post was written for you. Even while I won’t be discussing any long-term strategy to generate regular output, I will offer some short-term support and “must-dos” to get your office calendar producing again and under control. Which is to say: What to do right this second because your dentist’s appointment book just got emptied!
Quick Fixes for a Free Calendar
1. Do something about it on your own.
The first step is to take over as the office manager (or doctor in the absence of an OM). Personally. Don’t expect the front desk to fulfill your request to “fill up the schedule” just because you said so. If that were to help, you wouldn’t be in this jam to begin with.
Get your hands dirty and do it yourself. Then you can rely on your team to handle it until you’ve repaired the short-term schedule, determined why the schedule emptied out, and implemented modifications to prevent it from happening again.
2. Look at each new patient with fresh eyes.
a. Let’s do a full health checkup on each hygiene patient who comes in, just in case something has come up since their last visit or they’ve been putting it off for too long. It’s time to have another conversation with them about it.
After it is complete, inquire as to whether or not there is anything that would be of interest to them in terms of aesthetics or functionality. Make sure they know about the options available, such as Invisalign, veneers, teeth whitening, night guards, etc.
Repeat step (a) for patients not yet on the doctor’s schedule. Find out if there is any remaining work that needs to be done on them. Possibly, they decided to “phase” their three-crown treatment plan and get the crowns done one at a time. Please consider returning to this issue. Repeat the explanation even if it was only a few weeks ago. It may take several chats before a patient is comfortable enough to move forward with the necessary treatment.
Not giving up because “I had talked to the patient about it months ago and they didn’t want to do it” results in a significant boost in output for my clients frequently. Life is full of surprises and constant change. Bring it up again, but this time with a positive frame of mind, rather than assuming the worst.
3. Have a pre-planning meeting first thing in the morning.
If you are not synchronized, things may “fall between the cracks.” Before seeing your first patient of the day, hold a quick morning huddle to discuss everyone who will be visiting the clinic that day, from the hygiene patients to the people who need surgery.
As you may recall from reading Jeff Blumberg’s piece on morning meetings, we advocate for this kind of meeting on a daily basis, but it takes on added significance during periods of low productivity.
4. Give care immediately and stick around for the money matters.
An example of a situation that frequently results in a free calendar:
When the doctor outlines a course of treatment, the patient appears to be on board with it. That’s fantastic! The next step is for the patient to come forward… they don’t plan ahead, they had to “think it through,” etc.
The Financial Coordinator often learns firsthand that patients aren’t as “on board” with therapy as their doctor initially believed once they hear the price.
Patient anxiety often becomes apparent when discussing financial worries. “Are we sure this is the right time to do everything?” I simply wanted to do what was covered by my health insurance. “I was afraid to tell the doctor this, because I really dislike going to the dentist…”
At first, this may seem too difficult, “unseemly,” or like a waste of time, but as I indicated before, when you’re in the midst of a production crisis, you need to take matters into your own hands and not assume that they’ll be handled automatically.
5. Have the group start calling patients who have received exceptional care.
Scheduling Coordinator Training Course on DDS Success goes into greater detail on how to make these calls and schedule the patients. Still, here are the basics:
The software should provide a report detailing all patients who have not received therapy in the last three months.
Please have as many people as possible start calling these patients right away. If you have some open time in the schedule, it could be best to assign multiple workers to this task.
Provide them with no-cost, no-obligation appointments to see the doctor. The goal of your phone conversation with the patient is not to get them to begin treatment immediately or to sign up for the treatment plan. To make sure everything is steady, the doctor wants to see you for free to see if you want to come in and talk about some difficulties that have been diagnosed.
Once the patient is in the doctor’s office, a thorough examination may be performed, the diagnosis refined if necessary, and the patient can be persuaded to immediately begin any necessary therapy.
6. Inform your clientele by mailing them something.
This isn’t a reliable method of filling the schedule, but it’s worth a shot. Promote a service by blasting your patient list with emails, texts, postcards, etc. Think about promoting this month as a “Invisalign special month” complete with a limited-time discount and complimentary smile evaluations. Patients have been known to get a text about a sale on Invisalign, decide now is the time to have the treatment, and get started right away.
7. Investigate the possible cause of the freed-up schedule.
When things begin to turn around, it’s time to investigate what went wrong. There’s probably a valid explanation for why production went from good to awful so quickly.
Perhaps there’s a problem with the front desk staff. If the schedule is blank and the person in charge of the schedule gives you a blank, “So…? A red sign is if someone asks, “What’s the problem?” Maybe they aren’t qualified for that position.
Or perhaps a new policy has been implemented. I’ve seen offices institute new policies, such as waiting for pre-determinations to come back before scheduling patients, no longer accepting deposits or fees to hold appointments, or failing to schedule patients before they depart. After they figure it out, they put things back to the way they were and, hey presto! output increases again.
It’s possible that the doctor is unaware of this development. Front desk employees may not always be doing what you believe they are.
So, during this time of low output, I suggest paying the front desk a regular visit to (a) see for yourself what they’re up to, and (b) make sure progress is being made on all the suggestions I’ve made.
I don’t want you to be a micromanager or to constantly hover over your employees, but as we’ve discussed, you need to take issues into your own hands until production increases again.