How Do I Stay On Time?

Patients are just as busy as we are. We dislike waiting for them and they dislike waiting for us. One way to earn bonus points with our patients and keep them coming back to see us is to be running on time.

What should I do when I am running behind?

Never play the blame game. I once had a patient, who needed periodontal therapy, show up 10 minutes before my next scheduled perio-maintenance patient. The dentist still requested that I see them and complete 2 quads. (All 4 of the quads were ADA case type 4’s with rings of calculus) The dentist then told my next patient that “I”  was running behind. It is physically impossible to be in two places at once so both patients ended up waiting a long time that day and needles to say, I didn’t build any rapport with either of them.

Ask an assistant to help seat the patient and start with the radiographs and, if needed, help the dentist with the exam or depending on your state laws, complete coronal polishing and flossing.

Inform the patient of the timeline. If you are running 10 or more minutes behind, when the patient walks through the door, have the front office staff tell them it will be_____ minuets before you will get them back and see if that is going to work with their schedule. It is just courteous and I will even at times personally inform them of the new timeline. Often times people are on a lunch break or have scheduled something after the appointment. Be upfront and honest with them and yourself on the timeline.

Don’t rush it. If you are behind you may feel that you have to lower your standard of care for the next patient to make up for lost time. Patients can tell if you are rushing, act calm, collected and like you truly care about the patient's oral health. Continue to be 100% in your procedures, do the blood pressure, check the medical history, probe, preform cancer screenings, and scale all the teeth. Be efficient with your time and give them the full time and attention required for their needs. If this does happen state, “I apologize that you had to wait today. Thank you for your patience. I will be taking good care of you today.”

Why am I running behind?

Some of the top answers are:

1. The dentist is late for an exam.

2. The dentist takes a long time to do an exam.

3. My previous patient was late.

4. Last minute to do’s.

5. I don’t get enough time per appointment to accomplish everything.

6. Are you putting yourself behind.

1. If this is a chronic situation consider having a professional conversation with the dentist to come up with solutions that will work best for your office. Some of those solutions might be to put the patient into an open operatory and have an assistant help complete the exam and dismissal of the patient. You could also inform the dentist as soon as you have radiographs; this gives them 30-40 mins to find time for an exam.

2. If the dentist takes a long time during the exam, once again, you could have an assistant help while you get started in another operatory. To make the exams go quicker have the gloves set out, your mirror and explorer ready and the patient tipped back with the light on. Also, have the radiographs up and ready to be viewed along with your findings ready to present.

3. What should you do if a patient arrives late? I never send a patient home without something being accomplished if they show up. They DID show up, which is better than not showing at all. There are many factors to why they are late but instead of worrying about that it is most important to communicate at this point the honest expectations.  My conversation with the patient may sounds something like this, “hey Jim, so sorry IF there was a miscommunication today; I had you down at 2:00 and it is now 2:30. I will get done as much as I can in the time that we have left, but we will have to schedule you one more appointment to get your treatment completed.”   You may only have time to take 4 bitewing radiographs and have the dentist do the exam. If you can keep the communication positive they will appreciate you working them in. Remember as well, that patients who show up on time should never have to wait for someone who came late before them.

4. Last minute to do’s. Over time you will start to know how the dentist you work with diagnoses and their systems. Observe when they like intraoral photos or extra radiographs and take them prior to the exam so that you are not having to take them after. Also, pre-make tray sets ups and try to stay as organized as possible to stay on time.  

5. If you are not getting enough time to complete procedures then, honestly, you may have to cut some things out. There is no way in a 30 min appointment that you can do a cancer screening, full mouth probe and scale the whole mouth. You will have to use your professional judgement to decide for yourself if this is a situation you want to be in.  Have a professional conversation with the dentist making sure they are fully aware that you are unable to perform these tasks and the risks of not being able to do so and come up with a solution that will work for the practice and for the patients.

6. Are you putting yourself behind?  Be efficient, be confident, do it correct the first time. If you are re-scaling teeth, learn to scale them right the first time. Check out our prophylaxis tips and tricks video HERE to learn some scaling tips on being efficient.

Staying on time is sometimes a difficult task but when  you run on time work days are much less stressful and it makes the day run smooth. What are some ways that you stay on time?