How to Use Checklists to Make Your Dental Practice More Efficient

May 30, 2018 Rieva Lesonsky

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Does your dental practice use checklists? Sure, maybe you jot down a to-do list every morning, but creating standardized checklists for your practice has many benefits beyond just reminding you to do things.

Checklists can help to ensure patient safety, keep your appointments on schedule, and contribute to a steady stream of revenues. Here's a closer look at why checklists are so valuable for a dentist, how to create them and how to use them.

From flight crews to medical care

Checklists are common in aeronautics, where flight crews use checklists to prepare the airplane for takeoff. The idea of checklists in the medical field gained popularity about 10 years ago when surgeon Atul Gawande wrote The Checklist Manifesto. Gawande worked with Boeing, where more than 100 checklists were used for various situations that pilots face, to apply the same idea to surgery.

He found that patient outcomes improved dramatically when a checklist was used. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a Surgical Safety Checklist for medical professionals, and you can adopt something similar for your dental practice.

Checklists in the dental practice

The number and type of checklists you can create is limited only by your practice’s needs. You can create checklists for different steps of the patient's visit, such as:

  • in the waiting room
  • in the chair before the procedure
  • during the procedure
  • at the end of the procedure
  • during patient checkout

You can also develop checklists for specific procedures, or for different areas of your office, such as for reception, billing, your lab and your treatment areas. Harvard Business Review suggests creating troubleshooting checklists and coordination checklists as well.

You can even create checklists for different types of patients, such as pediatric patients, senior patients, and new patients. For example, your new patient checklist could include sending appointment reminders, registering the patient, and following up after their first visit. (Lighthouse 360 can help you handle all of these tasks with its automated appointment reminders and confirmations, and the Patient FastTrack feature that lets new patients register on their smartphones.)

Does this sound like a lot of checklists? Here's one checklist you don’t have to worry about: Lighthouse 360 automatically generates task lists for your front desk team every morning, based on smart recommendations, and emails them to you every morning. Your team will be ready to dive right in when they arrive in the morning, and you can feel confident that key tasks are handled each day.

Creating your own dental checklists

The WHO checklist is a good starting point for developing your dental practice’s checklists. However, it's important to customize your checklists to the situations that occur in your practice. Here are some tips to help ensure your checklists cover all the bases:

  • Keep it brief. A checklist is not a manual; don't spell out every step of a procedure. Instead, the checklist should be used at various key points in a procedure (such as before beginning a root canal) and focus on the key steps necessary to avoid problems (such as administering anesthesia).
  • Get input from staff members involved in the procedures. Don't try to create your checklist without consulting your team. Those on the "front lines" know best what steps are vital to success. For example, your dental hygienists can suggest items to include on a checklist for a dental cleaning.
  • Make it a group effort. Surgical checklists require every member of the surgical team to participate — whether by calling out checklist items, replying yes or no, or alerting others when a checklist item hasn't been completed. Whenever possible, instead of relying on one person to eyeball the checklist, get two people involved. Checklists help to build teamwork among your staff.

Using your dental checklists

Once your dental checklists are complete, make sure to actually use them. Experienced dental professionals may feel confident they can rely on their memories, but using a checklist forces them to stop and think before taking action. Often, that’s all it takes to avoid poor outcomes.

Need more tips on making your office more productive? Check out 5 ways office managers can automate their workload, 6 ways to make your dental practice more efficient, and ways you might be wasting time in the office.


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