Preblocking the hygiene schedule in advance for necessary nonsurgical procedures helps to ensure profitability. In the movie Field of Dreams, the premise “if you build it they will come,” proved to be true. Preparing or building your schedule for patients needing nonsurgical therapy gives hygienists the freedom to enroll patients into the early stages of periodontal disease right away once a diagnosis has been confirmed, rather than instructing the patient to simply “work on their flossing.” If hygienists know that the schedule is booked solid for several months, it is difficult for them to create urgency for the patient to return for scaling and root planning appointments. On the other hand, when a schedule is preblocked in advance, knowing a patient could begin treatment within a week or 2, increases the likelihood that optimal treatment options will be presented.
Depending on the practice, 1 to 3 appointments should be preblocked per day, per hygienist; specifically reserved for nonsurgical treatments given the high incidence of periodontal disease among our adult patients. Most software programs used in dental practices enable preblocking to be done through a template. If not, one can do so manually. Once reserved, the preblocked appointment should be held until 2 days prior. If it is not filled with a scaling and root planing appointment 2 days out, then administrators can begin to call patients identified on a “priority list” and offer the opening to anyone.
Profitability increases as deliberate steps are taken to reduce average open time from missed appointments to 5% or less. Missed appointments through no-shows and short-notice cancellations have the ability to completely eliminate profitability. Practices managing open time to maintain it around 5% of the hygiene schedule do so through team effort and with a plan. Benjamin Franklin said, “Drive thy business or it will drive thee.” In other words, control the schedule, or it will control you. One can calculate open time percentages by dividing the number of unfilled time units by the number of time units available, per day.
When a patient cancels an appointment with short notice for any other reason other than an emergency or illness, they should NOT be offered the next available opening simply to fill another hole in the schedule. Offer the patient who is canceling an appointment, an appointment in 6 weeks or more. Then, let them know that you will place them on a priority list and do everything you can to work them in at a time closer to their interval. You can always call them back later that day, or the next week to offer them an open appointment. Most patients, knowing the alternative is many weeks away, are inclined to accept the new appointment time and to keep it, realizing the alternative is another 6 weeks out.
Rather than confirming hygiene appointments the day before, which leave administrators scrambling to fill openings due to cancellations, calls or email confirmations should be made 1 week to 48 hours prior to the appointment. Patients should be given written appointment guidelines requesting 2-business days notice to change reserved appointments. Many patients call at 4:00 pm to cancel a 9:00 am appointment the next day, which means an administrator may or may not reach another patient to fill that appointment time.
Providing more comprehensive hygiene services, preblocking the schedule for nonsurgical treatment, and taking steps to reduce open time can take your hygiene department to higher levels of profitability. Capturing your patient’s desire to improve health and to enhance smiles by utilizing state-of-the-art technology to improve hygiene care can be a return on investment that you cannot afford to miss!
In summary, we have addressed the necessity of how to create the vision of a successful dental hygiene department, and that success is best realized when you have used a team approach. In order to have this happen, you must take the time to select the right person for the team. These issues are vital components to consider when developing and improving production and profitability for the hygiene system. It is a well-established fact that profitability in any hygiene department is directly proportional to the billable services provided. In addition, without proper scheduling, elimination of cancellations and no-shows, profits will drop.