If providing quality service is the heart of your dental practice, then having an optimal appointment scheduling system is its heartbeat. 

A good patient scheduling system is crucial to an efficient practice. Having dozens of patients in the waiting room can be a logistical nightmare for everyone if you don’t manage them properly, especially if you’re trying to adhere to COVID social distancing protocols. It makes updating the patient scheduling process all the more essential for a thriving clinic.. 

An effective scheduling system not only results in happier and more satisfied patients, but has a direct effect on your bottom line.

Patient scheduling is the process of optimizing and automating your appointment system in order to keep your patient flow steady.. There are different methods that can be used to create a scheduling system that maximizes your time as well as your patients.’

The COVID pandemic has facilitated an ongoing shift towards online scheduling for dental appointments. A 2020 survey of dental patients indicated that 79% of dental patients prefer online booking over using the phone. 

Adopting online patient scheduling can help you capitalize on this trend and get more patients through your door. We’ll discuss some of the most common dental scheduling tips and optimal ways to manage your appointments.


Popular Dental Practice Scheduling Techniques

There are multiple ways you can arrange your appointments, and each has advantages and drawbacks. You know your schedule better than anyone else, so it’s up to you to choose a method that best suits your practice’s needs. Adopt a dental appointment scheduling strategy that prioritizes your time and your patients’ money, and they’ll reward you with loyalty and repeat business.


Time-Specified (Stream) Scheduling

Time-specific scheduling is used by many appointment-based businesses, including healthcare providers. As the name implies, appointments are scheduled at a specific time, ensuring a steady flow of patients throughout the day and minimal wait times. This technique is also called “stream scheduling,” or “fixed appointment scheduling”. 

This method is optimal if appointment volume is a priority.  However, if you choose to use more old-fashioned ways of appointment scheduling, you can easily run into overlapping appointments or double-booking issues if you’re not careful. 

These problems can result in mounting delays and frustrated, dissatisfied patients, which translates to poor reviews on Google and Yelp. Be sure to leave some time slots open for urgent or special visits so that this doesn’t happen.

Wave Scheduling

Wave scheduling batches groups, or “waves,” of patients together in half-hour intervals. The patients are seen in the order they arrive. This method organizes your appointments in such a way that there is always a patient waiting to be seen, and patients with more urgent or severe symptoms are given priority. 

The wave scheduling technique offers flexibility but can increase wait times if managed poorly. One of its main advantages is the ability to fit patients who are running late into the schedule without too much disruption.

Modified Wave Scheduling 

The modified wave scheduling system builds on wave scheduling by customizing your specific needs. Patients are scheduled in the first half of each hour, leaving the second half open for other bookings or urgent visits. Practices that use this method often book longer appointments for more involved procedures in the first half of the hour, and book two or three follow-up appointments in the second half. 

This method provides added flexibility and leeway in the second half of each hour. The physician can examine other patients then to get back on schedule. The drawback is that patients scheduled for the second interval may complain about having to wait, so be sure to communicate to them that they’ll be seen in the order they arrive. 

Cluster Scheduling

Cluster scheduling puts patients who have the same conditions or similar symptoms into groups. These groups are then assigned a block of time in a day or are scheduled on a certain day of the week. This technique, also known as  “categorization,” is most commonly used in physical exams, diagnostic procedures, or prenatal patients. 

This type of scheduling system allows you to see a large number of patients in a short amount of time, while reducing the overall wait time. Just keep in mind that small, repetitive tasks can often result in human error. Remember to prioritize punctuality and make yourself available to your patients when they need to be seen.

Patient Self-scheduling

Self-scheduling is considered the most widely accepted and convenient appointment scheduling method. With this technique, patients schedule their appointments themselves via online portals, websites, or text messages. They get to view your schedule, see what time slots you have open, and choose the time and date most convenient for them. This method reduces the chances of no-show patients, scheduling conflicts, and cancellations, as patients are much more likely to attend appointments that they’ve scheduled themselves. 

While this option is a win for both patients and physicians, keep in mind that some patients might not be forgiving if there is a problem with the scheduling system. Also worth noting is the security risk embedded in any online appointment system, as patients’ credit card information may be compromised if accessed by hackers. Make sure you choose a trusted, proven and HIPAA-compliant scheduling software if you choose this route. 

Tips to Optimize Your Patient Volume

Implementing an appointment scheduling system that best suits the needs of both your patients and practice will only get you so far. After all, an online scheduling platform can’t run your dental practice for you. 

You still need to adhere to management best practices and have  a contingency plan in place if disruptions do occur. These tips and methods can serve as a guideline. 

Start Your Appointments At A Set Time of Day

Try to encourage your patients to schedule appointments in the morning or afternoon. Staggering your appointments throughout the day with gaps of time in between can lead to a lot of wasted productivity.

Batching most of your appointments like this can increase your practice’s efficiency by leaving appointment slots empty in case of no-shows. You can also use empty appointment slots to hold staff meetings or focus on administrative tasks.

Having a consistent scheduling method or online patient appointment software will help ensure that any idle time is kept to a minimum.

Implement Patient Self-scheduling

A 2016 patient survey revealed that patients prefer booking appointments online rather than over the phone. When you offer an online patient scheduling system, you’re offering more convenience to your patients and freeing up your own resources. 

You won’t have to rely on a frontdesk receptionist with a notebook to answer calls and schedule your appointments. Patient appointment software or a scheduling widget on your website will automate the process and organize the appointments in an effective way for both you and your patients. 

An online scheduling platform fills empty slots in your schedule and removes much of the busywork in maintaining it, so you can focus on providing your patients with quality dental care.

Create A Waiting List

Having a waiting list will reduce patient frustration over last-minute cancellations. 

A waiting list fills  open slots with patients from the list in case a cancellation happens. An online platform can maintain a waiting list for you, and notify patients on the list whenever you have a last-minute cancellation. . 

Because an automated waiting list fills empty slots for you, but you won’t have to go through the tedious process of going down the list calling every patient yourself. 

Confirm Patient Appointments With Text or Email

Your patients lead busy lives with a laundry list of ever-changing errands and responsibilities. They will inevitably lose track of or forget their appointments from time to time. 

That being said, having patients that don’t show up can be frustrating and can even impact your practice’s ROI. 

Use your patient scheduling platform to send appointment reminders via text, call or e-mail. This will reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations and help your patients arrive on time. It will also leave you a window to fill the empty slots with patients on your waiting list when no-shows do happen, which they will.

Create Automated Follow-Up Reminders

A successful dental practice means your patients keep coming back for recurring appointments. Sending your patients automated reminders for follow-up appointments lets them know your schedule availability and will encourage those who have not been following up on their regular checkups to come and visit you.

Providing your patients with quality service means building long-term relationships and trust with them, and those automated reminders demonstrate that you care about their long-term oral hygiene..

Monitor Appointment Cancellations

Last-minute cancellations can wreak havoc in your schedule and bury you in overlapping appointments or idle time that isn’t bringing you patients or profit.   

If you are noticing frequent last-minute cancellations, monitor any patterns and try to get a sense of why they’re happening. 

It also helps to have a cancellation policy displayed clearly on your website. Ask your patients to inform you about canceling 24 hours prior to the appointment, and consider incurring no-show or late cancellation fees to incentivize patients to keep no-shows to a minimum. This will allow  you to fill a missed or cancelled appointment with someone on your waiting list so you don’t lose out. 


It’s Up to You How You Run Your Practice

Having clear guidelines for how you manage and schedule your appointments, cancellations and no-shows goes a long way towards making your practice run as efficiently as possible. Better yet, moving your appointment management system online automates the process, ensuring  a steady flow of patients.

But in the end, it’s up to you to implement an efficient system to run your dental practice. Having patient appointment software removes a lot of the guesswork involved in finding the best scheduling strategies and being most convenient for your patients.

NexHealth provides a dental practice management system that you can customize to fit your needs and build your appointment scheduling method. Schedule a demo and see for yourself what a difference it can make for both you and your patients.

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