Office Hours and Time Management

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Patients | Patient Intake

Every patient deserves the best care you can offer. While it might be tempting to schedule as many patients as possible, the goal of effective time management is to achieve a workable balance between quality and quantity. While a full schedule may be appealing, over-scheduling could make you feel pressure to rush through appointments. The quantity of dentistry can never outweigh the quality. Compromising the quality of patient care could risk the viability of your practice.

Try to match your office hours to the times the majority of your patients are able to come in. Consider evening or weekend hours if an analysis of your patients’ availability finds that many, if not most, need appointments during those hours.

  • Consider your patients’ demographics and availability when setting your office hours and schedule.
    • Offer evening and weekend appointments if possible to help schedule patients with limited availability.
  • If patient demand warrants, you may want to consider adding an associate to the practice in order to accommodate patients’ availability.
Open communication and a good working relationship with your team members who schedule appointments can keep patients moving in and out of the practice smoothly and at optimum production levels.
  • Let your team members who schedule appointments know your preferences, such as whether you prefer to perform certain procedures on certain days of the week or at certain times of the day.
    • Keep in mind that this process requires time, constant feedback and flexibility. Both you and your team members who schedule appointments need to be willing to compromise.
    • Develop a plan for educating your team about how you want the schedule to flow and for resolving scheduling conflicts that might arise. Recognize that your team is working to balance your directions with patients’ requests, which can sometimes be very insistent.
  • Determine how much daily practice time should be devoted to consultative, diagnostic and clinical work.
    • Work with your team members who schedule appointments to reinforce those goals and explain how following the plan contributes to better patient care and increased profitability.
  • Leave time open daily for emergency appointments.
    • Many dentists allow a 30-minute window for emergencies.
    • Review your schedule each morning and talk with your team members who schedule appointments about the best time slot for emergency patients.
  • Accept and acknowledge that unavoidable delays sometimes cause you to run behind schedule.
    When that happens, your staff should apologize to any patients kept waiting. They should not offer a vague statement such as “the doctor is very busy.” Your patients expect you to be busy. They’re busy too, and they want their appointments kept in sync with their schedules. You should also offer an apology to any patient kept waiting more than a few minutes and consider mailing a letter of apology directly from the dentist to any patient who has had to wait more than 20 minutes recognizing the importance of their time. While it takes some time and effort, that patient will appreciate the extra effort and attention. It also helps wipe out the frustration they had at the time. It can also help overcome any frustration the patient may have experienced.