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By their very nature, emergency cases come up without warning and can therefore disrupt a dental practice’s schedule. There are, however, several ways practices can prepare for handling emergencies, minimizing their impact on the day’s planned activities without reducing the quality of care provided to the patients with urgent needs.
Space permitting, set up an auxiliary chair at your office.
For maximum scheduling efficiency (which translates directly into increased production), the doctor will move from one chair to another without rushing or down time. With an auxiliary chair in place, the main chairs can be scheduled in this way, yet the practice has the flexibility to accommodate the unexpected - not only emergency cases but also late patients and other unplanned situations. An auxiliary chair also makes it more convenient for the front desk coordinator to work in minor procedures.
Schedule most production in the morning.
Like having an auxiliary chair, scheduling patients with more comprehensive or complex treatment in the morning is a good policy in general, beyond its value when it comes to emergencies. “Front-loading” your day with high-production cases makes sense because you and your staff will be fresh - and because it will reduce stress for the rest of the day. Regarding emergencies specifically, this scheduling technique will enable you to work in emergency patients more easily in the afternoons.
Train your front desk coordinator to “triage” emergency callers.
Just because patients say they need to see the dentist immediately doesn’t always mean it’s true. Telling them to come to the office right away may not be the best course. The coordinator should quickly ascertain the nature of the problem (guided by excellent scripting) and make a decision, all the while showing great concern and assuring patients that the doctor will do whatever’s necessary to take care of them. If there’s pain, bleeding, risk of further damage, or significantly limited functionality, you may need to see them right away. In such cases, and even in less serious situations, the coordinator may decide that you, as the doctor, should get on the phone to evaluate the problem or simply reassure the patients. Even if it’s not a true emergency, you must see it from the patients’ point of view and show them your total commitment to helping them.
To minimize disruption, try to limit emergency visits to diagnosis and palliative care.
If you decide patients must be seen, let them know that immediate needs will be addressed and that further treatment will be scheduled once you’ve examined them. They will be pleased by your responsiveness, and your schedule will remain largely intact.
Let your regular patients know what’s going on.
Most patients, if told that an emergency requires your immediate attention and their appointment will be delayed by 20 minutes, will not be upset. Have staff offer to reschedule waiting patients if appropriate and call those with appointments later in the day to change their arrival times or set up new appointments.
Emergencies are always disruptive to some extent, but by following these steps, you can prevent them from causing unnecessary problems for regular patients and your practice while providing quality care to those patients who need to be seen on an emergency basis.
Note: To learn how an improved scheduling system and other strategies can help your practice increase production, attend one of Dr. Levin’s upcoming seminars. Pick a convenient date and location at www.levingroup.com/gpseminars.