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Step-by-Step Guide to Dental Appointment Scheduling

Learn the procedures, steps, risks, and requirements for dental appointment scheduling.

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While it may sound simple, dental appointment scheduling is one of the essential tasks in dentistry. Proper dental appointment scheduling can foster patient loyalty, increase staff productivity, lessen front office distractions, and reduce expenses. Additionally, it can give dental professionals more time to fulfill other tasks. Mastering this skill is vital for the overall success of a dental practice.

Appointment scheduling may not sound like the most exciting task for new dental professionals, but it is important. It’s essential to follow the proper method of dental appointment scheduling to ensure the office runs smoothly.

This article focuses on the process of dental appointment scheduling, one of the essential dental procedures for medical staff.

(See our list of the most common Dental Assisting duties and responsibilities.)

Dental Appointment Scheduling Definition

What Does it Mean To Schedule Dental Appointments?

Dental scheduling involves allocating specific times for exams and handling customer service inquiries. This includes familiarity with concepts like wave scheduling, modified wave scheduling, double booking, open booking, clustering or categorization, self-scheduling, and more. Some dental schedulers may perform these tasks for several offices.

What is the Purpose of Dental Appointment Scheduling?

Dental appointment scheduling aims to ensure patients promptly receive the care they need. In addition, streamlining this process can allow you to:

  1. Schedule patient appointments in months in advance
  2. Decrease patient wait times
  3. Increase patient satisfaction
  4. Confirm whether patients are eligible for insurance
  5. Gather necessary patient information in advance

How Long Does it Take To Schedule Dental Appointments?

Dental appointment scheduling is an ongoing process with several steps that can take time to complete. Booking a date and time with a patient might only take a few minutes. However, verifying insurance information and performing other tasks might take significantly longer. In some cases, the lifecycle might take days to weeks.

Who Can Schedule Dental Appointments?

While various dental professionals may be qualified to schedule appointments, this is typically a task reserved for Dental Assistants (DAs).

Dental Assistants are often responsible for creating and maintaining a daily or weekly schedule of appointments. They also prepare a copy for dentists as well as other dental professionals. DAs play a vital role in the dental practice, performing clinical and administrative functions.

(Go here to learn how to become a Dental Assistant.)

Training Requirements for Dental Appointment Scheduling

The requirements for dental appointment scheduling vary and depend on your location and profession. Dental Assistants usually need to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. However, some may learn through on-the-job training.

Dental Assistant programs typically take about one year or less to complete. They include both clinical and classroom instruction. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredits over 250 Dental Assisting programs in the United States. These programs provide knowledge and practical experience.

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Dental Appointment Scheduling Procedure

Like any other skill, dental appointment scheduling requires time and practice to get right. So, the first step is to understand proper scheduling procedures.

Steps for Dental Appointment Scheduling

Here are the general guidelines you should follow when performing dental appointment scheduling tasks:

  1. Split the process into two blocks of time. Schedule morning appointments from noon backward. On the other hand, you should try to schedule afternoon appointments from noon onwards. This configuration could help you maintain maximum productivity while ensuring that most of the day is scheduled for patients. In addition, coordinate with your colleagues to use empty time slots for overflow, staff meetings, or last-minute appointments.
  2. Prioritize appointments. In healthcare, patient visits usually vary in the level of care that’s required and the time that’s needed. Remember to consider these factors when you schedule appointments. Although some patients may require same-day appointments, you can settle other patient issues with a phone call or email.
  3. Send appointment reminders through text and email. You can ensure a greater number of kept appointments and on-time arrivals with an appointment reminder software system. No-shows are inconvenient and costly, especially if the dentist is busy and has a waitlist. Everyone misses out when there’s a no-show.
  4. Create a patient wait list. When it comes to late cancellations, a patient waitlist is your best friend. Why? It can help you make the best of this lost time. It doesn’t have to be “lost time” at all. Use a patient scheduling platform that includes a waitlist function. Then, you can send a notification if an open slot becomes available and try to get it booked. This will help save the practice time and revenue.
  5. Use an automated patient recall system. Although you must check your practice’s regulations first, putting a computerized recall system in place can be valuable. This system would help ensure that patients arrive on time for their scheduled appointments. It can also bring back patients who haven’t seen this dentist in quite some time. Sometimes all it may take is a quick reminder email, text, or voicemail.

Necessary Equipment for Dental Appointment Scheduling

Typically, the supplies for dental appointment scheduling include the following items:

  • A reliable computer
  • Fax machine
  • Printer
  • Scanner
  • Phone

Potential Risks or Complications of Dental Appointment Scheduling

Challenges of appointment scheduling may include service variability, patient or provider preferences, the experience of the scheduling staff, and available information technology. It’s also important to consider the consequences of overcrowding and prolonged wait times, which can lead to patient frustration, anxiety, and walkouts.

These potential issues highlight the necessity of well-trained dental appointment schedulers who can properly fill their role in managing dental appointments. If you think about it, the well-being of the patient, dental provider, and medical system depends on the efficiency of the dental appointment scheduling staff.

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Pro Tips for Mastering the Art of Dental Appointment Scheduling

Dental appointment scheduling tips include practicing and learning proper procedures. Here are other pro tips that may assist you in the future:

  • Observe cancellations as much as possible –If you monitor patient cancellations, you can find patterns. For example, some patients might not prefer morning appointments. Others might frequently cancel evening appointments due to work or family obligations. If you see that a patient cancels more than two appointments for similar reasons, you could respectfully suggest that they schedule appointments at more suitable times.
  • Pad each appointment by 10 minutes If possible, try to create a buffer between each appointment. This allows dental providers time to write patient notes, sterilize the room, and use the restroom. As a bonus, the next patient will appreciate their provider arriving on time.
  • Instruct patients on no-show and cancellation policies  Before their appointment, each patient must review no-show and cancellation policies in writing. They also need to know if the dentist charges a fee for no-shows or late arrivals.
  • Accumulate and evaluate patient data To help you minimize wait times and maximize productivity, you must determine why bottlenecks are happening at the office. Baseline data could help you identify which appointments or patients require more time than assigned. It could also help you discover trends and resolve them.
  • Remain strategic if you double book patients When you double book, you must pay attention to the types of appointments you schedule. For instance, a new patient visit and a walk-in could be handled simultaneously. This is because a dental professional could start the patient intake process for the newer patient as the dentist attends the walk-in. Afterward, the dentist can examine the new patient once they have completed their intake process. However, this process would not work with two new patient visits.
  • Search for ways to improve the overall process  There are several ways you can maximize productivity in a dental office. For example, if you notice that your patient schedule is too full—or not full enough—bring up the topic at your next staff meeting.

Why Should Dental Assistants Learn How To Schedule Dental Appointments?

It would be advantageous for Dental Assistants to learn how to perform dental appointment scheduling tasks. This is because appointment scheduling is a significant component in the success of each oral-health system. Dentists and dental hygienists can maximize their time with each patient thanks to dental appointment schedulers.

Thankfully, Dental Assistants can significantly increase the efficiency of the dental care team. For example, when they assist dentists and dental hygienists by effectively scheduling dental appointments, they keep the flow of patients efficient.

While dental appointment scheduling isn’t always a job requirement, it is a task that Dental Assistants commonly perform. It’s also a valuable skill that could lead to more opportunities. Therefore, it would be advantageous for DAs or aspiring Dental Assistants to pursue training in this area. Once experienced, a DA would likely become more helpful to their employer and have better career prospects.

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Start Your Career in Dental Assisting

Dental appointment scheduling is a crucial skill aspiring Dental Assistants should consider learning for their careers. It’s also an essential practice for the survival and success of most dental providers.

By assisting their colleagues throughout this process, Dental Assistants can help decrease patient wait times, increase satisfaction rates, and accomplish more tasks.

If you’re inspired and want to pursue a career in medicine, Unitek College offers various healthcare programs, such as our Dental Assisting program.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and tuition assistance options. Take the first step toward a rewarding future in healthcare!