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Inside Dentistry
February 2011
Volume 7, Issue 2

Smart Dental Scheduling

Managing precious chairtime with a goal-setting and planning tool.

By Penny Reed Limoli

Time management is a make-or-break system in every dental practice. What is the key? Being sure you and your team manage your schedule and avoid letting your schedule manage you. Use the following strategies to get your appointment book in shape and schedule smarter in order to reach your goals.

Know Your Daily Goals

The daily production goal must be determined and plugged into the software system. Your ability to reach that goal is directly related to the knowledge that every team member has about the goal, every day. Goals should be broken down by department and by chair. For example, in a $1-million practice working 192 patient contact days per year, the daily goal would be $5,208. In a general practice, the hygiene department should produce at least a third of this, so the daily goal for the hygiene department is $1,720. If the hygiene department uses two rooms, the hygiene goal per chair would be $860. If the hygiene department goal is $1,720 per day, the operative goal is $3,488. If the doctor works out of two rooms with two assistants, the goal is $1,744 per chair per day.

Time Your Procedures

Usually an office has an idea of how long a procedure will take and only sometimes is this accurate. By timing your procedures, and examining doctor, hygiene, and assistant time, you will glean a lot of information about how to not only make the schedule more productive, but also less stressful. Think about professional athletes. They are constantly measuring their progress. Whether it is a race time, distance run, or monitoring their form via video, constant measurement is part of their protocol. If you have never timed your procedures before, it is not too late to start. If you have already timed your procedures, then be sure you are scheduling an annual or semi-annual retiming. With new technologies, materials, and employee turnover, it does not take much to disturb the balance of your finely tuned schedule.

“Primary” Provider Time

Each appointment can be broken down into primary and secondary time or doctor/assistant and hygiene/assistant time. The practice only drives revenue at a healthy level when it schedules around the primary provider’s time. The primary providers (doctors and hygienists) should be scheduled to do the “special things” they went to school for as much as possible. So, if a crown preparation takes a total of 80 minutes on the schedule, the doctor’s time should only be blocked off during the time in which he or she must be in the room (anesthesia, preparing the crown, impressioning, etc). Simply blocking the doctor’s column for the entire 80 minutes is not an effective use of the scheduling system or the doctor’s book.

Know Your State Dental Practice Act

How familiar are you with the state practice act? Recruiting and training a highly qualified team is of utmost importance in your ability to schedule effectively. Hiring decisions should be based on the credentials needed for a hygienist or assistant to function at full capacity. Next, look at the procedures in the practice that have components that could be delegated by the doctor to an assistant or hygienist. Schedule in-office team training to get all team members up to speed on all skills that the doctor can delegate. Not only will this allow the doctor or hygienists to be more productive, but it also makes work more interesting for the clinical team.

Create a Schedule Template

Take your daily goal by department and chair and work with the entire team to layout the best schedule to allow for quality dentistry and the personal touch while continuing to deliver impeccable care. If you have too many procedures scheduled at the same time, quality and customer service will suffer. Many practices schedule their most difficult procedures, which are often the highest production, in the morning when everyone is fresh and there are fewer interruptions.

Establish Accountability

It is easy to blame the front desk if the schedule is not booked productively. While the administrative team has a lot of control over the schedule, their ability to keep a productive schedule can have a lot to do with the support from the clinical team. There should be one person at the front desk who is the primary accountability person for the doctor’s schedule and one person at the front desk who is primarily accountable for the hygiene schedule. Just as each chair has a goal each day, the team member in charge of the chair should be aware of the schedule for the current and next day.

Protocol for Emergencies

Many practices see emergency patients (especially emergency “new” patients) as a headache. Others see them as an opportunity. Develop a protocol for getting emergency patients in the office quickly andrendering treatment or at least getting them out of pain. Even the best-orchestrated schedules have changes. Capitalize on those changes to accommodate emergency patients and reap the rewards of many new “lifetime” patients.

Hygiene Recare Checks

Many offices wait until the end of the hygiene appointment to page the doctor to come in and check. In busy practices, this can have the doctor checking three to four hygiene chairs per hour. This many examination requests at the end of every hour is overwhelming and leads to stressed out doctors, hygienists, and patients. Have the hygiene team page the dentist as soon as the patient is seated and charting is done. Encourage the dentists to stop by hygiene whenever possible, in between the “doctor time” of restorative procedures. This allows the doctor to check patients in hygiene when he or she has time and prevents the entire hygiene department from needing their patients checked simultaneously.


Many offices use devices and technology such as radios, communication lights, or instant messaging systems. Those tools are a great starting point. The type of communication we are talking about is more of a “culture” issue. Just look at great sports teams. Not only are they highly skilled, they are constantly talking with one another about the next move. There should be the same level of verbal communication in the practice about what the patients need or their next appointment. The technology can also be very useful in real-time when there is an opening. A quick radio message or instant message letting everyone know there is an opening the next hour in hygiene or operative yields a much greater chance of the appointment being filled by a patient who is already in the office for another type of procedure.


No other management system in the practice can bring as many rewards or as much stress as the management of the patient schedule. Understanding the value of time, the importance of how it is used, and having a commitment to communicate regarding the opportunities to use open time are the keys to reaching your goals and being as profitable as possible.

About the Author

Penny Reed Limoli is a Dental Practice Coach at the Reed Limoli Group in Arlington, Tennessee.

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