Dental Office Manager Challenges: Managing the schedule

Manage your dental office schedule

One of the most critical responsibilities an office manager has is to manage the schedule. The dentist wants it to be productive. The hygienists want it to be full. The assistants want it to have enough time to turn over rooms and catch up on cleaning instruments. The secretaries are busy trying to fill the schedule when it has holes and confirm and take care of patients when it’s full.

A properly managed schedule keeps the staff busy and reduces chit-chat time. It also keeps the focus on our patients instead of on ‘what did you do last weekend’ conversations. The schedule dictates our profitability and is a visual reminder of our effectiveness. So, we know it’s important – but how does a dental office manager successfully manage the schedule?

Customize the dental practice schedule to the dentist

First, talk with the dentist to find out what his/her idea of the perfect schedule looks like. Every dentist is different. I’ve worked with pediatric dentists who had 4 columns of patients and a team of 4 assistants and EFDAs and he not only ran on time, he was relaxed and happy and always seemed to have plenty of time for everyone in the office. I’ve also worked with general dentists who were very pleased with just one column of patients and wouldn’t trust a well-trained EFDA to touch one of their fillings. The office manager should sit down with the dentist to sketch out on a blank paper what type of schedule he/she wants. When does the dentist feel freshest and therefore want certain types of appointments? How many hygienists is he comfortable checking? Does he need blocks at any time of day? The clearer the goal of a ‘perfect schedule’ is in the dentist’s mind, the better chance you have of achieving it!

Next, set up the calendar and the schedule. These are two entirely separate items. The calendar is for the month – when will the dentist be out for CE or vacation? Are any of the staff going to be out? Who will cover? How will you handle holidays or days that schools are closed? In our practice, we set up our calendar in Excel and give copies to each team to review. We do not pre-book, so we plan 2 months in advance. I expect a minimum of 6 weeks notice for any vacation time to reduce last minute changes and craziness. Once everyone has had a say in the calendar, then my secretary team leader sets our calendar up in Dentrix. We use block scheduling for each of our providers and their teams – which is not exactly what Dentrix intended, but it is a fabulous way to see at a glance which providers are open/closed. Read this report for more ideas on customizing Dentrix to your style of practice.

Dental office managers are responsible for the schedule

Now, to manage this schedule. The dental office manager is responsible to keep the schedule open throughout the day and watch for any changes. Any last minute no shows or cancels mean we need to hop on the phones to try to save the time from being wasted. We set goals for the team to meet hygiene open time goals as well as dentist open time goals – and we track these daily. We set collection goals for each dentist as well. On top of daily schedule management, I look at the schedule weekly. I watch to see if any staffing changes are necessary – if I have a provider that isn’t maintaining a full schedule, then we’ll add notes to ‘fill top down’ and let staff go home early. Since we maintain an entry level cleaning/sterilization person on the assistant team, if schedules are really open, I may give this person the day off – maintaining hours for my more senior staff.

The dentist and office manager should each look at the results of the scheduling each month. Did you hit the production and collection goals? What was the open time vs. goal? If you’re booking too far out (remember no more than a 2 week wait for a new patient), you may need to add some staff to increase capacity. If you’re too empty, perhaps it’s time for some marketing.

I can’t say enough good about how well my staff manages our schedule. With 7 dentists and 20 full time staff, everyone realizes their part in helping our schedule stay accurate and productive. As the office manager, I welcome staff who catch errors in the schedule, especially when we have enough notice to fix them! This general sense that we’re all responsible for managing the schedule is one of our most successful characteristics in the practice. How do you feel about your schedule?

Managing a dental office 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.

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AUTHOR: Jill Nesbitt
  • Evelyn

    Great article!

    February 24, 2014
  • I run a appointment reminder system and we have a number of dentists using our system. I’m trying to get some more insight into how they schedule their appointments so was very helpful.


    May 24, 2016