At Square Practice, we have a saying we often use: "Know Where You've Been to Know Where You're Going." In order to schedule your patients effectively you need to backtrack to find what you're doing to properly correct or improve it. In this blog, we are going to use this principle of "knowing where you've been to know where you're going" to effectively improve your schedule.
7 Tips: How to Effectively Schedule Patients
1. Know Where You've Been
Evaluating past and current processes with their associated dental KPI numbers and results should be Step #1. This is your starting point! If everything looks good and you are reaching your goals, you can stop reading here.
Include a time audit in your evaluation. See how long it takes for your scheduling coordinator to reach out to people and the results or ROI.
Separate the process of re-appointing and reminding patients to come in when evaluating. Although these are similar, since the goal is to get them through the door, they are two separate problems.
Every practice should have a pre-appointment policy. This means that the goal for every patient should not only be to receive a great dental experience but to leave with a future appointment.
The pre-appointment process starts from the moment they walk in the door. This involves proper treatment. Beyond that, it also involves the environment in your practice...amenities, knowledge of insurances, and running on time. All of these are factors that will bring patients back.
Begin educating your patients as soon as they're in the chair. Let them know the importance of oral health and that appointments shouldn't be put off until it's urgent. Continue this education in the pass off to the front office.
As a front office, your first point of interaction is asking how the appointment was. Build connection! Next, ask them WHEN they would like their next appointment booked for, and not IF they'd like to pre-book. The verbiage you use when pre-booking or trying to fill in opening matters.
"Hey it's Rachel from Square Practice, we have an availability in our schedule today. Would you like to come in for a cleaning at 2pm?"
"Hi *insert name* I was looking through our schedule and saw that we never got you in for your 6-month hygiene check up. I'd like to get you in today to make sure that gets done, are you available at 2?"
Notice how the second is personal and sounds like your practice has their best interest is doing them a favor? Begin to implement this kind of verbiage into your calls and in-person patient contact.
From a business perspective, it's more cost effective to retain and pre-appoint your patients then to try to get them back or find new patients.
3. Recall vs. Appointment Reminders
A scheduling coordinator will have two different kinds of follow ups to make. The first is appointment reminders: when a patient has an appointment coming up but needs to reminded. The second is patient recall: these are patients who broke their appointment, or never pre-appointed.
When sending reminders, make sure you send at least 3. The first being a month out, the second being a week before, and the last 24 hours before.
For recall, it will most likely take more for you to get a response. Be educational in your follow up, and let them know when their last appointment was and why they should come in. Check their insurance coverage. Maybe it makes sense for them to come in before the insurance rolls over.
Consult with your back office team. Find out how much time it takes for procedures and hygiene to be performed.
Ask the back office for scheduling feedback and if they have any preferences. They may prefer certain procedures in the morning when they have more energy verses an end-of-day appointment. Perhaps there are simple and short procedures that can easily fill a schedule? Connect with your back office staff to find out more.
Try using more precise units of time when scheduling. Do everything in 10 minute increments. This keeps things moving quickly, your schedule full, and your wait times down.
5. Process Updates
Remember when we talked about evaluating? After evaluating your processes, look for time wasters, steps with no ROI, and where you're not hitting your goals.
Implement information from your KPI's into your process. You can track broken appointments by appointment value. This is valuable when filling your schedule. You can choose your biggest opportunity appointments and get the most value out of your time.
Doing this will also allow you to see who you really need to get back in the door from a business perspective. You can also see what patients need to come back in to finish their continued treatment plans, giving your patients the best care...even if you can't get them in that day.
Part of your process, especially for more expensive treatment plans, should include looking up a patients insurance information prior to reaching out. This ensures the patient feels taken care of and can make an informed decision to best utilize their insurance.
So, let's say you are doing all the right things but you still aren't quite hitting your goals. What else can you do?
This is where automation software comes in. To make the biggest impact when scheduling patients, you should try to be automating parts of your process.
How much you use automation is up to you and what makes sense for your practice. Like anything there are pros and cons to automation. Your goal should be to use as many pros from it as possible.
See our blog here for our recommended automation resources.
If you have current scheduling goals, are you reaching them? What's preventing you or your team? This should have been part of your evaluation we spoke about earlier.
At this point, you've figured out where you've been...i.e. what you're doing wrong or where you are losing time. You created or updated your processes, you've tested them, and found improvement.
The final step is to set new goals and start trying to reach them. Goals are important for bringing focus to your strategy and process. It's a measurable "why" to what you are doing AND tells you where you're going as a practice.
Your schedule is a vital part of your practice's success. When a practice is running smoothly and on time, you'll have happier patients and staff. Taking the time to invest in updating your processes, tools, and training, will pay off in the longterm...which will save time, money, and stress!