Digital appointment scheduling

"Are mornings or afternoons better for you? What day of the week works best for you? Will 10 a.m. Tuesday June 15, be OK?"

By Victoria DaCosta

"Are mornings or afternoons better for you? What day of the week works best for you? Will 10 a.m. Tuesday June 15, be OK?" Wait a minute, registered dental hygienists digitally schedule patient appointments on computers? Did your blood pressure just go up? This could be a "INMJ" (It's Not My Job) dilemma.

Let's talk candidly. I resisted. Absolutely no way was this part of the job description I signed up for upon graduating from dental hygiene school. But that was before "hy-tech." Didn't someone once predict "a computer in every home? (Bill Gates)." We are starting to see the same prediction creep into our operatories: "A computer in every operatory!"

We now have a personal say-so in how we manage our workday! This is incredible! For so many years we have been at the mercy of the front office controlling our workday. I have personally had eight root planings scheduled for me in one day. I discovered this when I came into work one day. Has this ever happened to you? Let me emphasize more clearly how you will have direct input into your hygiene workday flow.

It is not only about just scheduling patient appointments. It is your digital day planner, a dental hygiene department organizer, if you will. This will enable you to record tasks, notes, alerts, run department reports, track patient recalls, and calculate just how much your worth is according to your production for your doctor's office.

OK, now that you have this technology installed (perhaps you may not have it yet, but it is coming), I would like to list for you how you can have more control over your "work flow" and production using an appointment scheduler (Would you ever give someone your organizer and allow them to schedule your personal life?).

Allow me to assume that you would like less physical stress, time to go to the bathroom, more income, and more time to do what you love? If so, lets explore once again another "Digital Dental Hygiene Day"!

Features

• A digital hub — A scheduler can be used as the "hub" of system navigation. By establishing your base station, you can navigate to other screens. For example, click onto the patient chart treatment notes, or click onto the perio chart screen. Overall, the appointment scheduler is much like having a hard copy of the schedule on the wall — only now you can click on your patient's name and see a lot more stuff.

• Perfect day scheduling — Some consultants advise us to pre-book appointment time for certain patient procedures to ensure production goals — by blocking out, for example, 10 a.m. slots for root-planing procedures. The computer will book "perfect day" appointments.

• Continuing care — You will want a software program that links your missed appointments and overdue patients. Also, you will want to be able to track broken or failed appointments. Look and research this feature, because the easiest step you will love is to "click and see" a list of who needs to come in. And use this printout to fill empty holes in your schedule.

• Rescheduling appointments — Making appointments needs to be a "no brainer" — a process you can train for in mere minutes. There are appointment software programs out there that I have used that are much easier to use than others. Make sure when you're on the scheduler screen you can navigate out to another related screen and come right back to the scheduler.

• Front and back communication — This is really a fun feature. You can "instant message" the front desk. I did this once before the front office knew how to use it. It was really fun to send a funny message. She was surprised. She sent back a funny reply. That was one of the most fun days working in that practice. But more importantly, I can send an instant message about my patient who may have an insurance benefit question. By the time my patient is checking out, the information has been researched, decreasing the check-out time dramatically!

• Tracking hygiene daily production — I love this feature. It is instant gratification of my ability to track what I financially produced for the practice that day. The computer calculates all of the appointment procedures, products sold, and services provided.

Advantages

• Instant communication from the front — Your patient's appointment is highlighted with a "here" color when checking in at the front office. You know your patient is "here" and can manage your time accordingly. Works much like the old "yellow highlighter" on your hard copy schedule.

• Easy read — Provider columns separated for dentist and dental hygiene patients. This makes your hygiene column easy to read on screen when highlighted with your favorite color (you get to pick the color).

• Hygiene business — Checking out your patients. Posting appears a "gray" color when appointment is completed and posted. This feature allows you to make sure every service you performed is recorded properly so you get the credit. I have found if I write on the hard copy chart I forget to enter some procedures into the computer. The appointment scheduler will remind you to enter all procedures.

• Hygiene department organizer — Integration of tasks from the appointment scheduler allows for major information management. I can put notes with the patient's appointments that the front office can read (and vice versa) — patient alerts, medical notes, and "heads up" observations.

Disadvantages

There are not many but a couple I found.

• You cannot view the scheduler when other screens are displayed. This is a pain, because if you turn to look at your schedule and have the perio screen up, you will not be able to view your schedule to check if your next patient is "here."

• Scheduling procedure time vs. production time, not all software programs have both.

Benefits

• Run production reports off your posted scheduler.
• A time saver to manage your workflow.
• View your appointment schedule in any room there is a computer.
• Changes in the appointment schedule are immediately updated in "every" room.
• Easy access to check your schedule the next day or the next week.
• Can always locate your patient chart.
• Your "to do" list is a mouse click away.
• Manages your administrative work to function more like a business.
• Better communication between the front and back office.


Hy-Tech user tips ...
for digital scheduling

• Set the provider view to see your own daily production number.
• Color-code your schedule with your favorite color.
• Visit trade show booths of software companies and test out the different software schedulers.
• Make sure you receive more training than you think you need.
• Explore all of the features — click on those buttons!
• Familiarize yourself with what reports you can print out.
• List all of the procedures you provide and input the codes (you will have to make up some codes the ADA does not provide).
• Input your patient appointment abbreviations.
• Make short cut keys by bundling procedures you provide in one appointment.
• Double-check what you are posting for production so you get credit for your work.
• If you forget to post a product sold or procedure post it to the patient ledger.


Victoria DaCosta, RDH, BS, is founder and president of Hy-Tech Solutions. A practicing dental hygienist for 17 years, DaCosta is a speaker, author, consultant, and an expert in the design of medical/dental software. She is also on the new technologies committee for the California Dental Hygienists' Association. DaCosta can be contacted at www.hy-techsolutions.com.

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