One of the first skills hygienists master as clinicians is multitasking. We learn to use every second of an appointment. From beginning to end, we create a rhythm and flow similar to a dance. If we lose our footing, we know where to pick back up. Over time we learn how to perfect the dance and make it better.
In some scenarios, however, it may seem like we can’t stay on time despite our best efforts. What can be done to improve our time management? Through trial and error, the two of us have come up with six time-saving tips to help manage your clinical schedule.
One of the most basic principles of clinical time management is preparation. If you expect your day to run smoothly, it will require strategy and foresight. Arriving early to the office each morning is a great way to accomplish this. Set aside enough time to thoroughly audit each patient’s chart for the day to make sure they’re scheduled for the correct procedures, prepare your hygiene trays with instruments and disposables, set up your operatory equipment, fill water bottles, and become aware of possible scheduling challenges so that plans can be implemented to overcome them. As you glance through your schedule, visualize how each appointment will flow and mentally prepare yourself for a successful day. While there is no exact time frame recommended for preclinical prep, many providers arrive 15 to 30 minutes before the morning huddle.
Control the conversation
Conversation can ease dental anxiety and is an effective way to build patient rapport. But how much is too much conversation? There are times we find ourselves deep in conversation and the next thing we know we’ve used 15 minutes of the appointment. A great way to politely pause a conversation is to say, “I love catching up with you but let’s get started on the details of your visit and if we have time at the end we’ll chat more.” In most cases patients understand. In cases where you just can’t seem to end the conversation and you constantly run behind with particular patients, it’s best to accommodate them by scheduling more time for their appointments.
Have you ever tried polishing first? This is a huge time-saver that is often overlooked. This can be used universally or selectively. Try polishing first when a patient has a lot of plaque or stain and see how much time you save. Many patients are accustomed to polishing being last, so to avoid confusion be sure to explain what you’re doing and why. Tell them the clean will be shorter and more comfortable. It’s a win-win!
Have a flow sequence
Although each appointment can be vastly different, having a flow saves time and ensures that you stay on track. For example, the sequence at the beginning of the appointment could include reviewing medical history, taking vitals, preprocedural mouthrinse, and addressing chief concerns. Continue to build out this sequence for an entire visit and not only will this keep you on track, but it will also save you time. Without a plan you are more likely to fall short and miss important steps.
Ask for help
Another skill that will help you manage your time is knowing when to ask for help. Some of us really struggle with this, but remember that any successful dental office operates as a team. We can only do so much as individuals, and each of us possess unique strengths and skills that allow us to enhance the overall flow and experience of patient care. While asking for help may not be easy, it can relieve a great deal of stress and pressure by allowing you to complete tasks in a realistic time frame. Conversely, you must be ready and willing to help your team members when they ask. Helping is a two-way street and should be approached with kindness, compassion, and positivity. If we make ourselves available to help others, they will likely do the same.
Setting boundaries when it comes to the clinical schedule is another important aspect of proper time management. These boundaries must be embraced by the entire team, so if your practice doesn’t already have simple “non-negotiables” established for staying on schedule, this is a great time to discuss them. Setting a cutoff time for late patients, developing a “perfect day” template for ideal scheduling, communicating how much time is needed for different types of appointments, and adding unexpected patients or procedures to the schedule are some basic concepts the team must agree on.
Having the support of the team when it comes to managing scheduling issues creates unity and allows the clinical schedule to operate in harmony with the goals of the practice. Practices that implement scheduling boundaries tend to have more compliant patients, smoother days, and happier teams.
Managing a clinical schedule isn't for the faint of heart. No two days are the same, and there are many factors that can affect how each appointment will go. While there are some things about the schedule we simply can’t control, there are many practices we can implement to overcome or prevent obstacles. Ultimately, the flow of the schedule can make or break team morale, patient satisfaction, and quality of care. Instead of falling victim to clinical circumstances, you can confidently claim control of the schedule by approaching it with preparation, strategy, and as a team.