Ideas to fill dentist schedules: Document reason for treatment

How are you doing at filling schedules these days? We’ve had some light days lately and are reviewing our systems for how to fill our dentist schedules, so here are a few ideas you can use:

  • Treatment plan everything in Dentrix – if it’s not entered into the computer, then no one can follow up
  • Run Unscheduled Treatment reports regularly to call patients that did not schedule
  • Document your calls and letters to the patient so you don’t overdo it.
  • Use a checklist to fill the schedule when you have “Day of” openings – that can be assigned to anyone with open time to work

Even when we use all these systems, sometimes we’re still struggling to fill the schedules. We found that one of the major keys to scheduling patients is to understand why the patient wants the treatment done. This has nothing to do with the clinical/bacterial/infection reason – this has to do with them personally. Just because they have a cavity, doesn’t mean they want to get a filling. Just because their tooth has a crack, doesn’t mean they want a crown.

To find out why a patient wants treatment, you have to ask them. First, the dentist must diagnose the treatment need and discuss this with the patient. As part of this conversation, it’s nice to reference the patient’s reason for coming into the office that day – is this an emergency visit or are you diagnosing this after a regular cleaning appointment? If the patient is in pain, then it’s pretty easy – the patient wants treatment to get out of pain. If the patient feels just fine, and you recommend a filling – then the hygienist may need to have a conversation with the patient after the dentist leaves the room. The hygienist needs to ask the patient for any questions about the treatment recommended and then should ask the patient, “So, how do you feel about having that cavity?” We’re trying to find out how the patient feels.

The goal of this conversation is to find out why it would be a benefit to the patient to have the treatment done. If the patient can’t think of any reason (“well, it’s not hurting me now and I really don’t have an extra $200”) then the hygienist’s job is to learn more about the patient to find out how the eventual pain and interrupted schedule will affect the patient. Find out what the patient’s job is. Do they have any travel plans? Is there a major holiday coming up? The hygienist should find out why this patient wants the treatment and she should document this reason in the clinical notes section of Dentrix.

Then, if this patient walks out without scheduling and the secretary calls them next week to follow up on their Unscheduled treatment list, she can see the hygienist’s notes and tailor her conversation accordingly. “Hi Tom, this is Amber with Dr. Smith’s office. I am calling to follow up with you regarding the filling that Dr. recommended. How are you feeling these days? Is that tooth giving you any sensitivity or problems?  . . . Well, that’s good to hear. I’m calling to schedule you to get that filling taken care of before that tooth causes you a problem. I understand that you’ve got a vacation coming up next month, is that right? . . . Well, I don’t want that tooth to wreck your vacation, so I have time on Friday at 10am to get that taken care of for you. How does that work with your schedule?”

Even if the secretary gets stuck with voicemail, she can reference the patient’s upcoming vacation and mention that we have time available before that to take care of your treatment. The more diligent the clinical staff are at finding out why a patient would want dental treatment, the more we can customize our contacts with him. We even created a customized follow up letter/email that we use for patients we just can’t catch on the phone. This letter specifically references why the patient wants treatment and we add the exact financial information as well. We know what the fee is, what the insurance will cover and what financial arrangements option are available – so we include all this in the letter. We hope by making this custom to the patient that they have enough information and motivation to schedule. Here’s to full schedules and profitable practices!

For more ideas to improve the business-side of your dental practice:

AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
1 Comment
  • Bob Hancock

    I just became an office manager for a good friend who bought an existing practice a year ago and has been doing everything himself. I have never worked in a dental office before and I am fortunate that the staff is being gental with me. I enjoyed your post and I will be printing it for our staff.
    If there are other postings that you have I would love to see them.
    Thank you for giving back to all of us that need your experience to grow.

    Bob Hancock

    May 1, 2012