Unit 4: Administrative Operations
Administrative Operations

Section 4. Scheduling

Scheduling in Advance

Most practice-management specialists recommend that appointments be scheduled no more than 5 weeks in advance. This allows multi-appointment procedures such as root canal treatments (RCTs) or definitive care for acutely infected patients to be completed expeditiously and preserves the quality of care provided. Experience in many safety net dental clinics also suggests that the incidence of broken appointments increases when appointments are scheduled more than 5 weeks in advance. Demand for care may make it difficult to adhere to the 5-week limit, especially if the clinic is bringing in more new patients than it can accommodate to try and meet demand.

To keep the appointment book from being filled more than 5 weeks in advance, the number of new patients scheduled in any month should equal the number of patients for whom treatment was completed during the month. Maintaining this one-to-one ratio should keep the appointment book in close to a steady state. Broken appointments are excellent opportunities to accommodate same-day urgent care needs. Managing the appointment book in this manner also requires that the clinic consistently define and track completed treatment plans. This can most easily be done by adding a tracking code to the practice-management software; completed treatments is also an excellent quality metric.

If you are scheduled further in advance than 5 weeks, other considerations come into play. If you have only one dentist, then unscheduled absences by the dentist (e.g. illness, family emergencies) can have serious consequences for your appointment system. Under no circumstances should the appointment book be scheduled more than 2 months in advance; rescheduling patients beyond that timeframe is inappropriate and is inconsistent with quality clinical care. Many safety net dental clinics keep portions of 1 week per month or certain times each day unscheduled or lightly scheduled to use for rescheduling patients or to manage emergencies.