Practice management business comparisons: Too few dentists use holistic time management principles

What it’s all about

„Where has my time gone?“ Not only do dentists ask themselves this question when setting up a new practice, during takeovers or in the context of mergers, but „seasoned“ colleagues also complain about a lack of time – as practice management business comparisons show. This cannot always be avoided, but it does not have to be a permanent condition if one observes some basic rules of managing time.

Time management means active design

Those who deal with the subject often first have to rethink: a lack of time in dental work is only to a small extent caused by external influences; it is primarily the result of wrong decisions about personal time disposition and practice organisation. Or, to put it positively: with the help of systematic time planning and an adapted practice management, one achieves holistic freedom to organise one’s time.

Incidentally, this state of affairs is the „secret“ of above-average successful dentists: with the inner peace resulting from this freedom, they succeed – in addition to their excellent professional skills – in conveying to their patients the feeling of being at the centre of what is happening in the practice and of their attention, an approach that almost automatically ensures patient loyalty.

Defining the scope of action

In order to make the „right“ decisions for one’s own use of time, a framework for action must first be defined and information obtained. The framework is defined by aspects such as:

  • the planned personal ratio of professional to private commitment,
  • the life cycle of the practice
  • the intended financial goals
  • the staff capacity of the practice
  • the time goals of the potential partners
  • etc.

Collection of the required information

The information needed refers to the activities that result from the services offered and the time required for this. This is often difficult to estimate, especially for new entrepreneurs, but friends or well-known established colleagues can often provide assistance. Supplemented by one’s own estimates, an initial time requirement plan can be drawn up for the work processes, which can then be refined step by step through the experience of treatment reality. In this context, the use of space and the planning of walking routes should also be taken into account.

The quality of the practice organisation also determines the management of time

Time management is inextricably linked to practice organisation, the processes that take place in the background of dental activity. The best personal time management is of no use if, for example, unannounced patients are repeatedly pushed in or materials are not available. Every mistake in the organisation torpedoes dental time management. The best way to counter this is through

  • clear agreements with the staff on work procedures and behaviour in patient care and treatment,
  • Close internal exchange of information on all organisational issues, e.g. in the regular team meetings,
  • short daily morning meetings, which serve the purpose of a common orientation for the day.

Good organisation is easy to realise

Staff members who make appointments should be able to narrow down the time needed to treat patients by asking questions and distribute the appointments in such a way that this results in an even workload for the practice. Appointment reminders help to avoid no shows. In addition, the implementation of one rule is particularly important:

When making appointments by telephone, the question is often asked: „When can / would you like to come?“. In terms of patient orientation, this is initially a friendly approach, but from an organisational point of view it is a serious mistake. It is better to use the alternative formulation: „I can offer you the following appointments…“. Telephone calls with such appointment offers have three advantages:

  • they are on average 39 seconds shorter, and for every 100 telephone calls they save one hour of time per day. Theoretically extrapolated to a year, that is – to illustrate the dimension – 260 hours that can be saved, with an average ZFA hourly wage of € 13 valued at just under € 3,400 monetary waste,
  • with the same friendliness of the offer – patients feel no difference between the formulations in this respect – the appointment booking and thus the working time utilisation of the practice is optimised,
  • In addition, the patients perceive the offer variant as clearly more professional.

With five rules to become a professional time manager

Successful personal time management is also based on the application of a few basic rules:

Strict discipline

All goals and agreements are of no use if they are not adhered to. This applies to the working behaviour of the staff, but also to the use of time by the practice owner.

Sufficient staff capacity

The number of staff must be in line with the number of patients and the workload; any discrepancy is felt directly by the dentist in his time management.

Consistent delegation

This is the central management principle of time use: all non-dental work is delegated to female staff in order to concentrate personal time demands on the core activity.

Interruption avoidance

Calls and questions from staff are not only perceived as disturbing by patients, but also interrupt the flow of work. This is countered by binding agreements with the staff on the – few! – exceptional cases treatments may be disturbed.

Setting priorities

The danger of being „spread out“ when a multitude of requirements have to be fulfilled at the same time can be counteracted by determining for oneself and for the team which activities/requirements are important and have to be dealt with immediately.

  • which activities/requirements are important and need to be dealt with immediately, which ones
  • have some time and which
  • can be put on hold at will.