What to do when the dentist is out of the office?

It never happens. The dentist is never sick.Sick

But it did – and unexpectedly, the dentist cannot come into work today. So, now what do we do?

This is a great conversation for your next staff meeting. Even though you haven’t missed a day of work in 27 years, you never know what might come up tomorrow that keeps you from seeing your patients. In fact, you can use the ideas in this article to create a page for your Personnel Policy manual and the team can refer to your notes and follow your specific instructions.

Choose a contact person

Choose one staff person as the contact person with the dentist. In small offices where everyone is friends with the dentist, the dentist could be handling text messages from everyone – while he is sitting in the hospital emergency room! If the team chooses one person to communicate with the dentist, that is caring of the dentist, who most likely isn’t feeling up to replying to everyone with the same level of detail and concern.

Our staff contact person will be: _____________________

Confirm the hours the dentist will be out of the office

Look at the schedule for today and tomorrow. Confirm with the dentist that she will be out today – she may want to know which patients that will affect, so be ready to share this information. Talk about the next day’s schedule as well – let the dentist know the hours patients are scheduled and ask the dentist to confirm if she will be there or not. If it’s first thing in the morning and she still hasn’t been seen by her doctor, she may not know! So, you need to agree on a time late afternoon, say 4pm that the dentist will assess how she is feeling and then contact the staff to let them know for sure if she will be coming to the office the next day.

Also, if the dentist works a 4 day week, perhaps they want to offer to patients to come in on her normal day off? This is something to ask the dentist right away. This works best if, for example, the dentist normally sees patients Monday – Thursday and she ended up ill on a Monday or Tuesday morning. If the staff are willing, the dentist could see patients that Friday – and that makes it easier for the staff who have to call patients and reschedule.

The dentist will be out: ________________________

Call the patients

What should the staff tell the patients? Nothing overly dramatic – you don’t want to suggest to patients that they might want to start looking for a new dentist! When the office manager calls the treatment patients for the rest of the day, a script might sound like, “Hi Pam, this is Jill with HealthPark Dentistry and I’m calling to talk with you about your 11am appointment with Dr. Smith today.  Dr. Smith isn’t feeling well and needs to take the day off and he asked me to call you to ask if you would be willing to reschedule your appointment.”

Our script for calling patients: ____________________________

If you end up with an upset patient who refuses to reschedule, then take notes and let the dentist talk with them upon his return. Generally, these calls go very smoothly – especially when the office manager can offer another time in the near future to reschedule these appointments.

Patients the dentist needs to contact: ________________________

Keep your hygiene schedule

In most states, hygienists can practice ‘unsupervised’ once they have a couple years experience and have received this certification from the state board. This is incredibly valuable for when the dentist is out of the office unexpectedly. By looking in each patient’s ledger to see when the last dentist exam occurred, the office manager can offer to the patient to keep the appointment and simply skip the exam for this visit. A script for this call could sound like, “Hi Pam, this is Jill with HealthPark Dentistry and I’m calling to talk with you about your 11am appointment to get your teeth cleaned. Dr. Smith is going to be out of the office today and so he won’t be available to do your exam. However, you’re welcome to keep your appointment and get your teeth cleaned today if you’re okay with skipping the exam this time. What would you prefer?”

Be sure to check your state board – just google and you can easily find the laws regarding dental hygienists (and dental assistants for that matter). Another good discussion for your staff meeting can occur when you print the state law for staff and review it so everyone knows what is allowed by law.

These hygienists can see patients unsupervised: ____________________

Coach now to avoid panic later

Hopefully, your staff never needs to use these instructions. However, the worst public relations for your practice (especially if you happen to be over age 60) is to have your team in a panic when their dentist is ill. Without specific instructions, your concerned and well meaning staff could share their worries with your patients and the next thing you know, the rumor floating through your community is that you’re dying – and that means patients might start looking for a new dentist!

Planning for when dentists are out of the office is just one way to run a successful dental practice. If you’re interested in new ideas on running a dental practice, please subscribe to my weekly blog. One of the biggest challenges to managing a dental practice is managing dental insurance. With dental insurance handled, then dental marketing for new patients becomes a primary focus. In today’s day of online reviews, handling patient complaints well is essential. As your practice grows, hiring dental staff becomes more important. With 16+ years of dental practice management experience, I’m open to your questions to help you run a successful dental office.

Feel free to email me.

AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
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