Appointment scheduling will depend on the number of chairs and oral health professionals you have. A good strategy is to divide the day into 30-minute blocks for each dental chair. Dentists are generally able to predict the complexity of care needed by the patient and can designate an appointment as either simple or complex. Dentistry is procedural in nature, meaning that the dentist can treat only one patient at a time; therefore, the dental practice must be scheduled as an operating room. As each dentist works out of two dental chairs for optimal productivity, it is important that two complex procedures not be scheduled concurrently for the dentist. Scheduling a simple appointment in one chair while a more complex one is scheduled in the neighboring chair is manageable, especially if the program takes advantage of all staff working to the top of their licensure. An efficient appointment system will keep all of the chairs filled during the day, without making patients wait or staff rush. This balance can be difficult to achieve. Because there is no single best answer for how to schedule appointments, you may want to consult with a practice-management specialist like Safety Net Solutions for guidance on how to set up your system. Safety Net Solutions also offers a practice-management module on scheduling in its online learning center. NNOHA has scheduling resources and manages an e-mail discussion list for health center dental directors and other stakeholders that can be a valuable resource for advice and guidance.
There is no right or wrong way to craft schedule templates. At the end of the day the template should be designed to maximize access (visits), to maximize income (revenue) and to maximize outcomes. The sample appointment templates listed in the Resources section below can give you a starting point as you work to create your own schedule template that meets the needs of your individual practice. There are many different strategies for how you block appointments in the schedule. You can use color coding for various appointment types; you can stagger appointments as in the first sample, designating different time blocks when different staff are interacting with patients to ensure smooth flow of the dentists between multiple operatories; and you can designate specific appointments for specific types of patients in priority populations (e.g., children, pregnant women) to ensure access.