Make it visual: How to increase dentist efficiency

X                /                   X

X                /                    /

X               /

/               X

/               X                    X


Does this look familiar? Columns of X’s, /’s and blanks to communicate exactly where the dentist is throughout the day. And, since we can preset our appointments to include X  X  /  /  /  – don’t we end up ignoring all these marks anyway?

The dentist instructs the front desk team “Fill the Schedule” while the chairside assistant threatens them, “Stop double booking us!”  Your office manager is caught in the middle and the daily drama continues.

There is a better way.

Create an ideal scheduleAppt Book with Time Blocks and Appts

Remember – just because your software comes with the standard X and / set up – doesn’t mean you can’t customize your schedule so that it is easily understood by everyone in the practice. Sit down with your team and talk about what a great schedule looks like. Here’s how – for the next several days, print your schedule and note where you ran behind or where your dentist was hanging out because there was extra time. Bring these schedules to your next staff meeting and use these ideas to create an ideal schedule. When the dentist and all the staff talk together about what a great schedule looks like, there are several benefits:

  • Clinical staff understand the dentist’s expectations about a full schedule – and when the assistant comes to the office manager and yells at her about adding a patient to the opening at the end of the day, the office manager knows she has the dentist’s full support to fill the schedule.
  • Office managers appreciate the flow of clinical care – this is a great opportunity to explain where the dentist needs to be for anesthetic, prep and fillings or temporary crowns, etc. Remember that your front desk team (unless they have clinical experience) has no sense of the rhythm of the clinical team. So, explain this to your team – and they will schedule you more effectively!
  • Dentists clarify (maybe even for themselves!) the schedule they want and are committed to working.

Make it visual

One of my favorite things about Dentrix is how it can be customized to your style of practice. Through color, labeling operatories and block time, you can set up your schedule to easily see open time for each provider. Hygienists are pretty straightforward – labeling operatories with the hygienist name and making sure the colors match the provider – it’s easy to find open time.

Setting up a column for an EFDA (expanded function dental assistant) really gives your schedule a boost in productivity. If your dentist’s column is full of comprehensive exams, crown preps, filling preps and assorted extractions or appliances, then your EFDA’s column has a separate purpose. Schedule x-rays, temporary crowns, sealants, and placement of fillings in your EFDA’s column. By limiting the appointment time in the dentist’s column (where your dentist is working with a primary assistant) and reserving time with your EFDA to allow her to work at the top of her license, you can increase the efficiency of your schedule.

Customize your Appointment Types

You’ve heard of block time scheduling? Experts recommend creating blocks in your schedule reserved for crowns or major treatment – to increase profitability as well as reduce the stress in the dentist’s day since often crown and bridge appointments last at least an hour and can cut down the feel of hopping from chair to chair all day long.

You can also use this block scheduling concept to make your schedule more visual and productive for the clinical team. To find this in Dentrix:

  • Start at the Office manager
  • Click on Maintenance
  • Select Practice Setup
  • Choose Definitions
  • Select Definition Type
  • Choose Appointment Types

Now – the standard appointment types might be “Crowns” or “Root canals”. But you can get creative with this! Think about your practice – do you reserve certain times for your hygienists to work with an assistant? If so, then you can define an appointment time “Assisted Hygiene” – and choose a color for the block. This immediately communicates to the front desk team that the hygienist has an assistant during this block time – and therefore, different scheduling guidelines apply.

Same situation for your EFDAs. If you define an appointment type “EFDA” or “Fillings/Sealants” – again, you’re communicating scheduling guidelines to everyone who looks at your schedule without any verbal communication required. Visual guidelines for scheduling increase efficiency and productivity.

Managing schedules 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
  • dr teresa destefano

    Hi Jill- We have dentrix- and have customized certain things, but could use some help- we have a new hire at front desk who is doing great, but needs more training in scheduling. Can you recommend a webinar or other training to help us? dr. d

    January 30, 2015
    • Dr. Destefano,

      Thanks for asking! I have two ideas for you – the first is to explore my online dental staff training manuals to make sure your new hire gets the training she needs. If you would like to talk more about how this would work, please email me at or call me at 615-970-8405.

      Another idea is to have your new hire take advantage of the free training – if you’ve paid for the customer service plan, there are some great webinars and tutorials available there. In fact, I incorporate the training into my levels approach – structured into the specific topics she would need to review in the order that makes sense.

      I look forward to hearing from you!

      February 2, 2015