What can a hygienist do when her schedule falls apart?

Dental Staff Training: Hygienists Open Schedule

In most dental practices, if the hygiene schedule is open, the hygienist doesn’t work. This is the Business Calendar & Scheduletrade-off for hygienists being the highest-paid members of the staff – they can only be paid when the schedule is full. So, how does your practice handle it when the hygiene schedule falls apart?

The wrong things to do
It makes me crazy when the hygienist goes to the front desk and complains about her schedule. The office staff knows you want a full schedule and they have worked hard to make that happen. The last thing they need is to apologize to the hygienist when a patient doesn’t show up. In general, front desk team members earn about $14/hour and hygienists earn about $30/hour, hygienists would do well to remember who they are complaining to.

Another wrong thing is for the front desk team to do nothing. It is the office staff’s job to fill the schedule and to manage no shows and cancellations effectively. It’s also the office manager’s job to handle supply and demand for the hygienist – and tightening up the schedule is part of that responsibility.

The right things to do
Call and see if you can talk with the patient – if the patient forgot, perhaps you have open time later in the day that he could come in? Be sure to document the no show or cancelled appointment and apply any fees. More importantly, there should be a short notice list (QuickFill in EagleSoft or Broken Appointment list in Dentrix) that can be tackled right away. If you’re a DemandForce customer, then you can create a Hot list of these patients and push out an email/text message to the whole list at the same time.

For the hygienist with the open hour, the first thing she can do is try to fill her own schedule. Hygienists should keep a notebook where they write down patients that they have promoted dental treatment to but has not been scheduled. The hygienist will call these patients in her downtime to see if they have any clinical questions and try to get them scheduled.

Beyond calling patients, there should be a project list of tasks a hygienist can tackle. Perhaps the inventory closet needs restocked or her instruments need sharpened or her room needs deep cleaned? A hygienist can always earn good graces with the assistant team by offering to help with cleaning & sterilization.

Make a Plan
Finally, it’s up to the dentist to make the tough decisions about managing the hygiene schedule. If the hygienist schedule is consistently empty, then it’s time for a one on one discussion about what hours are guaranteed and when the hygienist will have to be off the clock. The dentist could also identify specific projects that hygienists could tackle to make up some hours. Next, the dentist needs to communicate these decisions to the rest of the staff.

In fact, during the next staff meeting it’s important to talk about the holes in the hygiene schedule so that everyone understands why this is a problem and how each team member can help. The office manager should share her recent efforts to fill the schedule – showing copies of call lists worked and how many patients were scheduled. The assistants can encourage their restorative patients and their families to get a cleaning. The hygienists can let the rest of the team know when they are okay to come in late or leave early and share what projects they are working on as well. An empty hygiene schedule is stressful for the entire office and giving the team the opportunity to acknowledge the problem and talk about ideas also gives the dentist a way to praise staff members when holes get filled.

Handling an empty hygiene schedule 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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