Concerned about working harder for shrinking returns? Here’s a big-picture plan for going from frustratingly busy to genuinely productive—and profitable—instead.

By Kay Huff, RDA

WHETHER YOU’RE scraping by or actually getting ahead, treating patients is the same hard work it always is. That’s why schedulingis so important. Even moderate lack of planning causes high stress, low productivity, decreased dollars per hour and significant time-management trouble. But proper scheduling is relatively simple to accomplish, provided you follow a few important steps. Commit to doing it religiously, and you’ll start experiencing benefits right away.

1. Know your break-even. If you’re unsure of thisfigure, you’re not alone. Many otherwise functional practices have been right where you are. However, you can’t move on to Step 2 unless you’re clear on this critical number. That’s because we use our break-even point as a basis for planning. Ideally, you add 20 to 30 percent to the break-even and then set your yearly, monthly and daily goals. If you can’t figure out this number on your own, you need to hire a financial expert.

2. Set a smart production goal. Take the monthly figure and divide it by the desired number of practicing days to calculate your necessary daily goal. If your practice has been loose or undisciplined about production in the past, it can feel a little jarring when you suddenly insist on mapping it out and holding everyone on the team (including yourself) accountable. Just remind them how much easier work will be when everyone is finally rowing in the same direction.

3. Complete a procedure analysis report. Don’t just fill in the blanks in your schedule with as many patients as you can, squeeze in some last-minute emergencies and simultaneously hope the dentist will be able to check three hygiene patients an hour. It might work for a while, but it will eventually lead to burnout. Generate a report for the last three to six months. It will tell you how many times you’ve billed the top codes such as perio maintenance, active therapy, crowns, endo, COE, et cetera. You can then begin blocking out the schedule with an eye toward minimizing fatigue. For example, for the doctor’s primary blocks of time, do you really want to squeeze half the daily production into three hours? Instead, you might want to situate one primary block first thing in the morning and then another primary block immediately after lunch.

4. Make key protocols second nature. It’s time to start obeying some golden rules. Each one could be a column by itself, but here goes: (a) Schedule a variety of primary, secondary and tertiary days. (b) Hold some blocks for the doctor and hygiene, but also for new patients; if the blocks are not filled after two to four days, use the time for other procedures. (c) Give yourself time . . . but time yourself to see if you’re assgining the appropriate duration to each procedure. (d) If you’re having more than two emergencies per day, you need time set aside specifically for emergencies—but palliative treatment only! (e) Make sure doctors are doing only what they need to do; assistants should be doing everything else allowed by law. (f) Get case acceptances in writing. (g) Review your cancellation policy with each patient when scheduling their appointments.

Truly productive scheduling is best defined as organizing every day for a variety of procedures, setting aside emergency time and making sure procedures have been analyzed for time accuracy. The benefit is a predictable, manageable road map for each day, week and month. Get it right and you’ll be able to see fewer patients yet do more dentistry per patient. Your reward will be increased produc­tion, decreased stress, happier patients (who post better reviews) and smoother last-minute emergency care.

KAY HUFF, RDA is the Practice Solutions Ambassador for Benco Dental, bringing more than 40 years’ experience as a professional coach specializing in business systems, team motivation, leadership and profitability. She is one of Dentistry Today’s Leaders in CE and Dental Consulting. Contact her at