Running a dental office is no simple task. It can often be challenging for dentists to get their teams on the same page, estimate procedure times correctly, bill on time, and even confirm appointments. If your dental practice is struggling under the weight of inefficiency, you're not alone. Fortunately, there are several simple ways to help improve the efficiency of your office.
The Importance of Efficiency in Dentistry
Realistically, no patient truly wants to be in your chair getting a filling or having their teeth cleaned. It's something they must do and they're often anxious for it to be over as soon as possible. What this means is that your practice is already full of patients who might not want to be there and have an innate predisposition for dissatisfaction. It's critical that you optimize the experience of your patients to negate this reality, and ideally to nudge them in a positive direction.
Greg Nodland, COO, and Dr. Robert Brody, Chief Clinical Officer of Great Expressions Dental Centers tell Efficiency in Group Practice that efficient dental practices perform more procedures and see more patients than inefficient practices, meaning that efficiency truly does affect your bottom line.
How to Help Your Dental Practice Run Smoothly
Making sure your dental practice runs smoothly from day to day is one aspect of managing a dental office that often gets put on the back burner. However, the efficiency of your office likely has a direct impact on the satisfaction of your patients, which naturally impacts every other aspect of your practice.
Here are some ways you can help your practice run as smoothly as possible:
1. Estimate Your Procedure Times Accurately
When you don't estimate the time you need for different types of appointments, things can get hectic very quickly. Patients who need 45 minutes for their appointment could end up in 15-minute slots, or you may end up with large gaps in your schedule during which few to no patients are being seen at all.
Linda Drevenstedt, president of Drevenstedt Consulting, LLC, tells Dental Economics that dentists often don't account for time their patients don't spend with them, specifically. Analyze roughly how long each type of procedure takes. Then, make sure you include time that patients spend with hygienists, assistants, and other staff before they actually see you or other dentists in your practice.
2. Automate Appointment Confirmation and Reminders
Many dental practices use text messages to remind patients about appointments and get quick confirmation back. VentureBeat reports that 90% of people read a text message within 30 minutes of receiving it. If you're sending appointment reminders via SMS, you can be confident that a majority of your patients are seeing them.
Reminders can also be automated to be sent a day or two before scheduled appointments, so your staff isn't spending extra time on the phone cold calling to confirm. You should make sure to obtain the appropriate permission from patients to send them text messages.
3. Schedule the Next Appointment at Check Out
It takes additional time away from administrative staff if they're calling patients to schedule their follow up visits in addition to confirming appointments. Instead, have patients schedule their next appointment at check out before they leave. If your dental practice is busy, your wait list for standard procedures like cleanings may be extended anyway. So, patients have motivation to make appointments as soon as possible.
4. Reduce Patient Wait Time
Software Advice reports that the average wait time for patients in medical practices is about 18 minutes. The study also suggests that general dentists have the shortest wait time among several different types of doctors, clocking in at just about 8 minutes on average. However, wait times are affected by a multitude of factors and differ greatly from practice to practice.
If your wait times are climbing, Health eCareers suggests gathering as much information about patients as possible before their appointment, utilizing a late-patient and no-show policy, separating different front desk duties, and letting patients know when they can expect a longer wait time.
5. Automate Billing Systems
Billing is time-consuming and tedious for most medical practices, especially so for dentists. Automated billing software can help reduce the workload associated with billing and while it won't replace a dedicated team of billing professionals in your office, it can help them streamline processes and become more effective. WhenIWork suggests that your office's time could be cut in half by automating billing, while also preventing some cash flow problems.
6. Train Front Staff to Triage
Your front staff should be able to triage patients who call with appointment requests. Train them to ask questions that reveal what type of dental issue the patient is having, how serious it is, and whether or not it's an emergency. Doing so enables staff to schedule appointments for appropriate time slots– e.g., scheduling a more complicated case in a longer time slot or urgent issues sooner.
Efficiency & Efficacy Go Hand in Hand
When your dental practice is efficient, it's generally more effective. Scheduling nightmares, billing problems, and stressful days take a backseat and your office begins to run like a well-oiled machine. Auditing your current processes and making changes across the board to improve efficiency is a daunting task, but it's also one with a potentially big payoff.
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