Properly scheduling patients is essential to a successful dental practice. It helps you meet your production goals and keep patients happy, too. But in a COVID-19 world, you must adjust your schedule to comply with recommended protocols for protecting patients and staff. As you reopen your practice, here’s how to revise your schedule to be safe and efficient.
Review the latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and ADA guidance for dental offices. Be sure to stay abreast of any state and local guidance, too. Based on this guidance and your existing safety protocols, determine what additional steps you’ll need to build into your day. These may include:
- Staff health screening: Allow time for employees to go through necessary health screenings upon arrival, as well as to put on personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Disinfecting and sanitizing the office: Build in time at regular intervals, as well as after each appointment, for staff to clean and disinfect surfaces the patient may have touched and prepare for the next patient.
- Pre-appointment patient screening: Allow time before appointments to screen patients for COVID-19. This may include taking their temperature and having them complete a consent form and health questionnaire or review previously completed forms. Doing this while patients wait in their cars can keep patients from potentially infecting the waiting room. You can use Lighthouse 360 to set up a “virtual waiting room” that maximizes patient protection. For example, Lighthouse 360’s Patient FastTrack feature can save time and prevent cross-contamination by allowing new patients to fill out and e-sign digital patient registration forms on their phones.
- Transporting patients: To minimize the number of patients in the office, you may ask patients to wait in their cars until you’re ready to see them. Staff will need to communicate with patients on arrival and retrieve them from their cars. The two-way texting feature of Lighthouse 360 makes quick communication easy, and you can text directly from your PMS so there’s no need for a mobile device.
- Staggering appointments: To avoid having more than one patient in the waiting area at the same time, and maintain social distancing between patients during treatment, it’s recommended you stagger appointments.
- Using PPE: Staff need time to provide patients with personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as to put on, remove and dispose of or clean their own PPE.
- Emergency cleaning: If a patient or staff member with COVID-19 enters your office, you’ll need time to clean and sanitize the office appropriately.
- Grouping treatments: You may want to group potentially risky treatments, such as those likely to produce a high level of aerosols, at the end of the day to minimize staff and patient exposure.
- Taking payments: Consider offering online or digital payment options to prevent patients from lingering at the front desk after appointments.
Document new protocols as you develop them. Add new procedures to your operations manual. Create checklists you can post around the office to guide your staff through each process.
Plan your schedule
Once you’ve identified the changes you need to make and estimated how much time they will add, you can begin to adjust your schedule. Start by assessing how much time and income you lost during the COVID-19 shutdown and how you can best make it up.
- Revise your hours. Consider the pent-up demand from patients who’ve had to delay hygiene or treatment appointments. Your office may need to offer extended night and weekend hours to handle the demand while limiting the number of patients in the office. (Need to generate more demand? Try these tips for marketing during COVID-19.)
- Do practice runs. Walk through an entire patient visit to work out any problems with your system before your first patients arrive. Involve your entire team; each member of the staff plays a different role, and each will have different insights into what the stumbling blocks to smooth operations are likely to be.
- Set daily production goals and track them. Studies have shown that top-performing dental offices set specific goals and measure them regularly. You’ll probably need to adjust your production goals and schedule frequently during the first few weeks after reopening. Running a lean dental office can help you maximize your profitability during this time.
- Be flexible. No-shows and cancellations are likely to happen even more than usual as patients get nervous about visiting the dentist or develop symptoms of COVID-19. Make sure patients know there’s no penalty for cancelling an appointment. Then use automated tools such as Lighthouse 360’s Fill-in feature to handle any unexpected cancellations in your schedule. Fill-in automatically detects last-minute cancellations and finds patients to fill those slots, helping you meet your production goals.
Consider new communication tools
As you reopen your office, a lot of things will have to change. If you’re looking to change the way you handle patient communications, consider Lighthouse 360, which can send automatic appointment reminders via phone, text, email or snail mail; handle two-way texting with patients; receive automatic confirmations directly to your PMS; send custom e-blasts and more. And because it’s designed just for dental practices, you can feel confident Lighthouse 360 meets all your patient communication needs.