Filling Your Schedule with the Best Patients (pt. 1)

What’s one thing that every single dental practice struggles with? Finding, scheduling, and keeping the patients you want in your chairs is a never-ending job.


What’s one thing that every single dental practice struggles with? If you answered, “filling their schedule,” you are the winner! Finding, scheduling, and keeping the patients you want in your chairs is a never-ending job.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Kelly Schwartz, CEO of Schwartz Consulting Group, about some of the most effective ways a dental practice can fill their schedule with the right kind of patients. Kelly and his team work with over 750 dental practices, providing them with tools and resources to help them grow in the ways that matter most to each practice.

Here’s our recent conversation with Kelly. Our host is Katie Poulsen, Subject Matter Expert at Dental Intelligence. We were also joined by special guest Curtis Marshall, our VP of Enterprise Relationships.

 

Katie

We’re talking about filling schedules this season, and you are very good at filling schedules with the perfect patients, so we’re going to talk about finding the perfect patient for the hole in your schedule. It sounds hard - you just keep making call after call. How does a practice achieve that when the schedule falls apart?

Kelly

I’m a big believer that you begin with the end in mind. So, if you’re a dentist who’s going to do a crown prep, you need to know what that crown should look like at the end of the procedure. You visualize where you want to go and build upon it. To be successful and to fill the practice with the right patients, we want to make sure that you know what your plan is for the day. 

That could be a schedule for the day, or it could be a certain number of patients or production - how do you pick the best patients? So, the first thing I look for is – do we have a goal for the day? Let’s say the goal is 5k in production.

How do we get there? It starts with keeping hygiene full.

By keeping the hygiene department full, that’s where most of the work diagnosed comes from and that can be converted with systems and education into the doctor’s chair.

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But your question is really, “How do we pick the RIGHT patients?” So, when I ask offices what the right patient looks like, they say the patients who have the most dollars of work to do. Which, in theory, is true. But I try to train the team to think of the patients that need the most care. So, if you, Curtis, come in every 6 months for a cleaning, that’s fantastic, but if you don’t need or want work - that’s one thing - but you want an eight o’clock appointment every six months - you don’t do the work you don’t refer the work, you just want eight o’clock so you just want the time not the practice.

Katie, on the other hand, needs treatment. And if she doesn’t get it, she’ll have more issues than you will. So, you want to pick the right patient so what we like to do - we love using Dental Intel because it’s the only tool I’m aware of as a coach - but what I like to do is train the team to find the patients that have been in in the last 18 months to find the most care.

Curtis

Just to clarify there Kelly, by care, you mean the most treatment needed, correct?

Kelly

Right, so the patient that needs treatment and goes untreated, they have a greater chance of having a problem and I don’t want that as your Dentist. Or - Katie, who just wants a cleaning and has a twice-a-year coupon from her insurance to come in - so Katie just wants to come in for a cleaning.

What I tell them to do is look at the patients who are overdue and then find the patients with the most treatment needed. Then we prioritize - so one of the things we’ll do is call the first 10 patients who have been in the last 12 months who had the most care, then we’ll call those who were in in the last 6-9 months who had the most care. Then we’ll go to all the patients who need 3k in production or more. Instead of going from top to bottom of list - we go to the patients who have the most care. The reason why is we want them to get in before they have more problems. 

Katie

I love that because it’s not just beneficial for the practice - it’s what’s best for the patient.

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Kelly

Absolutely! If I have five openings and fifty patients and I only have five hours in chair time open, let’s pick the patients we can get in and prevent them from having to spend more money. We want to catch it before it’s a problem.

So that’s where I start - hygiene chairs open.

In dentistry, if you have eight patients per day in a hygienist’s chair, you have 448 teeth to look at, but if you only put seven patients per hygienist per chair, you have 392 to look at, meaning you lose 56 opportunities to find teeth needing treatment. That’s really important. And then you don’t want to have a patient - a practice full of patients who don’t need treatment. Most practices’ goal is to get everyone healthy, right? In dentistry we can’t afford to have that. If we have sixteen hygiene patients who don’t need work, we don’t need assistants. We need a front desk. So, we like to prioritize those patients and have a system in place to get those patients in the chair with the biggest amount of treatment - I’ll call it the low-hanging fruit. So, we want to be productive and keep butts in chairs with patients who need care in our practice.

Curtis

Kelly, this is really cool - to recap here what we need is first you need to know your goal. So a question for you - if my goal is 5k in production - I hope yours isn’t but if it is, and you have many holes in your schedule, is that a perfect day? 5k? If you’re scheduled to it - your goal is 5k per day, and you’re scheduled to goal, but you have holes in the schedule, is that still a perfect day? 

Kelly

I train our front desk teams to have consistent productive days. If our goal is 5k, 6k, 10k - it’s either 1k over or 500 under. I don’t want to put so much pressure on that every minute of every day must be full. We want to be productive and grow. If we hit within that range every day for a month, then the next month might be $5500 a day. We’re making steady progression. We don’t set a goal at the beginning of the year and say that’s it. I’ve seen teams have a 5k or 6k day on the books but who have three openings and spend three or four hours trying to fill an opening in two hours which is not a productive use of time.

I’d rather look to the future to be more productive. Productive is more important than full.

In order to have a perfect day, you truly need to understand- “What’s a perfect day for you?” Ultimately, it’s production - nine out of ten times. So, you need to schedule to your production goal. Once you know what that is, the key is then making sure that you’re able to fill up those appointments with dollars.

If you have these holes in your schedule, then what you’re wanting to do to fill them by getting patients to have treatment already presented and get those patients scheduled rather than getting the Katies who have perfect teeth, right?

Here's where Dental Intelligence becomes so important. I still want Katie to come in for her appointment – that just needs to be part of my overall approach to scheduling. Instead of the old methods of scheduling, we use the tools DI gives us, which is like replacing a screwdriver with a power drill. When I’m filling our hygiene schedule, I want to go into our recare pie chart and look for patients who’ve been in recently that need the most treatment and that’s where I’m going to start treating - that’s where our focus is. Then if we have holes in the doctor’s schedule, then I’ll use Dental Intelligence’s patient finder tool and jump in and pull in patients that - I’ll do a search.

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For example, let’s say I have a 45-minute opening, I’ll look for patients needing fillings that have been in within a certain timeframe. 30, 60, 90 days - they’ve recently been in and are motivated. Maybe they need a crown prep. I’ll pull patients who need crown preps. I’ll use that Dental Intel power drill instead of running reports in Dentrix, Eaglesoft, Open Dental, just looking for anybody.

I can also find patients that are better matches when I use the quick fill that DI has provided by the best match. When I click on – “I have an opening on my schedule,” I hit my best match and that pulls up the patients that would best fill my schedule for that particular day – the ones I’m most likely to reach.

One of the problems we have is when you call “Old School Katie” on a Dentrix, Eaglesoft or Open Dental list, and her last name is Adams, and my last name is Zebrowski - all the Adams get called 100 times and we never get to the “Zs”. So, we want to make sure we have a sequence of who to call, when to call, when to leave a message, when to hang up, leave a LocalMed link, etc. Use all the tools together. But if you open time on recall, I’m going to my pie chart looking for them. And if I’m looking to fill my doctor’s schedule, I’ll go to my recent restorative elective cases and look for the patients who were just in who need my care. I’m going to look for anybody who has zero % accepted on newly diagnosed treatment and I’m going to follow up with them quickly.

Here’s a question for you, Katie. Do you know the #1 reason that patients leave a practice?

Katie

Leave as in they never come back?

Kelly

Yes. The biggest reason is their perceived lack of caring from the doctor. So, 64% leave because they think you don’t care. Imagine that I, your doctor, told you during your visit three weeks ago that you needed a crown. But for one reason or another, without good systems, I don’t follow up with you for 60 to 90 days. When my team does call you, why am I calling? Because I care or because I want money?

It’s typically the latter - the doctor needs to fill his or her schedule.

But with Dental Intelligence, we set it up so that if you walk out the door without scheduling that crown - within fourteen days you’re being contacted by the office because we now know who the patients are that didn’t get the care they needed. We send them a letter, text, or email as soon as they walk out the door saying “We know you didn’t schedule, and we care, and we’ll contact you soon to get that scheduled.” And so, within three days you get this communication and a photo of your tooth because your dentist really cares. 

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Curtis

I have a friend whose last name starts with “Z” who actually told me he rarely if ever gets called because of that, and he works in marketing!

Kelly

It’s about “power tool” instead of “old school”. It’s 2021! We should have flying cars by now! If you think about day planners and file cabinets and answering machines and pagers, they’re all obsolete, but they’re not that old. Our “why” for doing this - talking to you today on Growth in Dentistry – is because we know that our systems at Schwartz Consulting Group combined with Dental Intelligence equals results.

So, here’s the question - getting butts into the hygiene chair is important. Two of the numbers I find that really give me the pulse on my practices and systems are:

1: Patient Treatment Acceptance - How many schedule after presented?

2: And of those dollars presented, how much is scheduled?

What’s a good number here in your opinion?

Curtis

As a % what’s a good case acceptance?

Over 90 for people saying yes. If I present to 10 people 9 should say yes. 

Kelly

That’s the goal. But what % of the practices do you think are currently performing at that level?

Curtis

Not very many. Based on the data we look at, most are at around 40-50%. 

Kelly

40-50% do treatment - that’s what data shows for the majority of clients, right? And what $ of dollars are scheduling?

Curtis

I believe 30% or maybe even the high 20s. 

 

(End of part 1. Here's part 2.)