How to Manage Your Practice's Summer and Back-to-School Schedule

August 25, 2017
DMD Staff

It’s that time of year again: The summer is coming to a close, and mothers everywhere are clamoring to get their children through the door before the start of the school year. If you're like most dentists, this time is sandwiched in between a marked in appointments. Fortunately, there are ways to plan ahead to get the most out of your summer.

Providing convenience and accomodating your patients is important no matter the time of year.

From July to September, dental practices are met with a downturn in appointments, save for a flooded schedule right before children return to the classroom.

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If your practice is experiencing this seasonal influx, or you want to attract more families to your practice during this off-season, Mike Abernathy, DDS and founder of Summit Management and Summit Practice Solutions, has a few ideas for coping and making the most of your summer.

“Generally, you see a huge dip in the summer time,” Abernathy said. “Practices are looking to put people in chairs.”

One crucial piece of information to keep in mind, according to Abernathy, is that your pediatric patients will rarely have cavities or need any major procedures done. If your schedule is dominated by these kinds of appointments, there is less opportunity for the money-making procedures that keep your practice running. Dentists will still need to free up the peak demand hours for patients who need more extensive care.

How, then, can practices accommodate their pediatric patients while still giving priority to more lucrative appointments? The first step is to avoid the big scheduling mistakes to which many practices fall prey.

“Don’t schedule the whole family at once,” Abernathy warns. “The no-show rate for an appointment is anywhere between 20 and 40 percent. So, if you have a family of four under one appointment, and they cancel last minute, you’re not just losing one patient.”

The remaining work to be done when managing an influx of pediatric patients operates under one simple principle: A dental practice is no different from any other small business.

As such, knowing your customer base and appealing to them is critical. Understand that regardless of the time of year, women will predominately be the ones calling in to schedule appointments for their children.

“Any front desk person will tell you, 92 percent of appointments are made by females who want to come in early and late,” Abernathy said. “Problem is, we need to guard those times for new patients.”

Abernathy recommends setting aside a few Saturdays solely for pediatric patients. Even better, make a day out of it complete with kid-friendly fun. Your hygiene team is more than capable of handling these one-and-done pediatric appointments, giving you time to network with prospective patients and be the ambassador for your practice.

“I wouldn’t do much dental work on those days. I dressed in slacks and a polo shirt, and I would go around and glad hand all the nice people,” he said. “We had face painting, I had coloring books with the name of my practice on it. Just fun stuff like that worked really, really well to free up the peak demand hours we needed.”

Peak demand times, before and after most adults’ working hours, limit a practice’s ability to accommodate every patient. This can pose a huge problem during the back-to-school rush. In his own practice, Abernathy would expand his hygiene staff and see up to 300 pediatric patients on a Saturday to free up the 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekday window, when adults typically want to come in.

The next variable in the equation requires some pre-planning. Like any business anticipating a seasonal up or downturn, start marketing for the back-to-school period at least six weeks in advance.

“Most doctors aren’t about educating their patients about coming in,” Abernathy said. “Always anticipate the increased need. Send out post cards about two weeks in advance, digital messages one week in advance and then call four days in advance to make sure the patient is going to be there.”

Overall, Abernathy says, be proactive about your systems and protocols and anticipate these blockages so they don’t become a hindrance to your productivity.

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