Triage and time management – skills that come naturally to some, and not so naturally to others. But these skills are vital to running a successful practice. And when you don’t manage your time, it manages you. Your days feel out-of-control and leave you, your patients and your team feeling frustrated and unsatisfied. Successful offices know how to keep the schedule moving, leading to patients who are happy with their experience, a team that is loyal, and a doctor who is less stressed (and more productive). Overall, it’s just a happier place to be!
I have a young dentist in my office. She’s smart, hard working, ethical, kind, diligent, does nice work, and is pleasant to be around. All the things I want in an associate and future partner. But day after day, I see her struggle with time. And her lack of time management frustrates the front desk. They have people in the waiting room, staring at them, asking: “when will she be ready? How much longer?”
It frustrates the patients. They want their time to be respected. They arrived on time.
It frustrates the assistants. When an appointment runs over (30 minutes or more), they are harried trying to clean up, set up, and get the next patient brought back for treatment. They know the priority is the patient and the patient’s experience, and they are amazing at not allowing the patient in the chair to feel rushed. But as the day progresses and the schedule gets further and further behind, you can feel the pressure rising in the office. The entire mood deteriorates. And really, this makes sense. The assistants want a lunch break, and to go home at a reasonable time. The patients want to leave too. They have kids to pick up, a meeting to make, and oftentimes they don’t want to be at the dentist’s office in the first place.
So, can you take someone who doesn’t naturally manage time well and help them? Yes…but it’s hard. These skills can be learned, and it starts by timing the doctor. See how long a procedure actually takes, and be realistic about what can be done in an allotted amount of time. Some things take less time than you think, but others take more. Honesty is key. The clock doesn’t lie.
The doctor doesn’t need to do some procedures, so these do not need to be timed with the doctor. But consider whether the assistant has the skill to do the procedures. Does she/he need training? How much time do they need? You will only know how much time they need by timing them as well. Then take this information and mark it in the schedule. Denote doctor time and assistant time, so the office knows who is needed and when, where, and for how long.
But in order to make all of this work well, multiple assistants are necessary. Because time is blocked in the schedule showing where assistants can take over, schedule the day to keep the doctor where they are most efficient. Allow the assistants to take over where they can. They like this. And when running behind, the second assistant starts the next patient by taking them back and getting pretreatment care out of the way, or finishes up with the current patient by posting procedures, making temporaries, or scheduling as the doctor moves on to another room. This runs smoothly, and everyone is happier.
Allow well-trained assistants to guide you. They know running significantly late makes us all look bad, and nobody wants that. So what can they do to keep the doctor on time? Here are some things my assistants do that has worked for me. They signal behind the patient when I am spending a little too much time in the room chatting (and I like to talk to my patients). A small tap on her wrist says: watch the time. A note on the tray cover tells me we have 10 minutes left, or the next person is already in the waiting room. Maybe she suggests sending the crown to the lab instead of making it in-office, so I can leave and she can finish up (temporaries are delegatable). If I am needed in another room, but engaged with a patient who likes to talk, my assistant will just step in and take over the conversation. Then, I step out to do dentist-only things. It’s seamless. My assistants love people too, and they are great at this. Now I am free to do another procedure, and there is no gap in the personalized care we are delivering to every patient. And my hygienists appreciate this! By working together – as a team – we keep the day moving.
Nobody wants their days to feel frenzied, or to run late with no time for lunch, or to leave late. And you don’t have to. By controlling your schedule, allowing your assistant to influence you, utilizing multiple assistants, and being aware of delegated procedures, you can create more productive – and less stressful – days.