Scheduling Dental Emergency Patients Causing You Pain?
Scheduling dental emergency patients each day can be a great source of stress for the dental team. It usually begins with a phone call. Someone has a toothache or a broken tooth and they need help now! Although, every now and then, we do see a patient or “potential” patient walk through the office door asking for immediate attention.
How we manage this as a dental team can make or break our day in the dental office. The front office will most likely feel great pressure to schedule the dental emergency immediately. However, they might also be unsure just how or where to put this patient in their schedule.
Scheduling Dental Emergency Patients Well Begins With Team Talk
Set a date and time where the entire team can meet to discuss how to schedule emergency patients. It is important for the entire team to be involved in the discuss. Everyone on the team is going to have a different perspective.
It might even be a good idea to have a dry erase board or some large pieces of paper for everyone to write on! This is a great time for brainstorming or making any changes to your block-scheduling that you want to make!
If you are not yet using block-scheduling, this is a great time to start!
Look At Your Numbers As A Team
There are some numbers and you might want to consider in deciding where to schedule emergency patients. For example, it might help to look at how many emergency patients you see each day.
Then you may also want to know if the office is seeing all of the emergency patients who call in a timely way. Another good question to ask is if there are emergency “potential” patients who are being turned away? If you are unsure if there are any emergency “potential patients” who are being turned away, start tracking those calls!
Another important piece of scheduling the dental emergency patient is knowing how soon in your schedule you can get that patient in! Unless the emergency patient specifically says they are in no hurry to get in, schedule your patient that day or the next, depending on their situation.
Some Other Considerations
And if you are wondering if you should define “emergency”, the answer is yes! There are some definite emergency situations and we will define that in a moment.
Let’s really focus on where in the schedule we are going to put our dental emergency patients. Have you decided on that yet?
My recommendation is to make two 30-minute blocks in your schedule each day. Place one block early in the day and the second block in the afternoon. Some days you will not use both blocks, and other days you will need more time. But two emergency blocks is generally my guide.
Then, what do we do with those emergency walk-in patients who want to be seen? Talk about this as a team too! My thoughts on the walk-in patient is to let them know you will do your best to work them into your schedule, but they may be waiting a little while.
Who knows? You may have some surprise open time in your restorative schedule! Things generally do work out well if we stay flexible and open to change. At the very least, at some point, we can probably get the patient back for an x-ray and exam. We are here to help! Let’s help! If we don’t, someone else will.
Scheduling Dental Emergency Patients With Great Telephone Skills
Knowing that most of our dental emergency patients will actually call the office, we need a great plan! The telephone is the number one way our patients will reach out to us.
So, how do we know when our “emergency” patient is truly an emergency? Sometimes our patients do need a little help in figuring this out! That’s why they call us in the first place!
Once you have their name and you know who you talking to, there are some other basic questions you can ask.
- Are you currently experiencing pain?
- On a scale of 1 – 5 with 5 being the worst, where is your pain?
- Any swelling at all in your face or in your mouth?
- How long have you had pain and or swelling?
How To Evaluate The Dental Emergency
Sometimes, patients don’t realize their situation is immediate. Other times, patients don’t realize they will okay for just a few more hours. When scheduling dental emergency patients, the dental front office team needs to be able to adequately assess the situation and direct the patient.
I have seen patients with a lot of swelling in their face think that there is no immediate danger. If your patient calls the office with swelling in their face, or pain, you want to see them that day. Even if it means that you and the team will need to work into your lunch or after hours in some way. If you have used up your set emergency patient blocks for the day, you will need to make a way.
On the other side of the coin, patients will sometimes call with a chipped tooth. There is no pain, but to them they are having an emergency. They might even say that they are worried that the tooth might break more. It might. How do you reassure your patient who feels they are having an emergency and they have no pain or swelling?
Scheduling Dental Emergency Patients Scripts #1
So, let’s try to bring this all together with some possible scenarios. A patient calls the office to ask for an appointment with what they consider an emergency. They have waited all week to call. A tooth broke on Monday afternoon, but they waited until the end of the week to call. Here’s how it goes:
“Good afternoon. Dr. Tom’s Dental Office. This is April. How can I help you?”
“Hi April. This is Jane. Jane Smith. I know it’s Friday afternoon. I’ve got a broken tooth that I’m worried about. I’d like Dr. Tom to take a quick look at it. It won’t take long.”
Greet Your Patient By Name & Thank Them For Calling
“Well, hi, Jane! I’m so glad you called! Let’s see what we can do to help! Are you currently feeling any pain?”
“Well.. no.. but I am worried that this tooth will break over the weekend”
“I can understand that, Jane. Do you feel or see any swelling in your face or in your mouth where that tooth has broken?”
“No, not at all. I don’t see any swelling. I kept meaning to call all week, and I’ve been so busy I just kept forgetting. Could Dr. Tom see me before he leaves for the weekend. I just want to be sure this tooth isn’t going to break any more over the weekend.”
How To Schedule A Non-Urgent Emergency
“I’m glad to hear you have no pain or swelling, Jane. I totally understand how you feel. Dr. Tom has an emergency patient in his schedule this afternoon that is going to push us late into the day. I would like to schedule you for our first appointment Monday morning to evaluate this tooth further. I’m going to ask you to be careful with this tooth and avoid biting any crunchy or hard foods with that tooth until we have a chance to see what’s happened. Can we see you Monday morning?”
“I could come in Monday morning, but what do I do if this tooth breaks more over the weekend?”
“Great! I’m going to schedule you for an appointment Monday morning at 9:00. The good news is, this tooth broke several days ago, and you’ve not developed any pain or discomfort, and there is no swelling. Let’s trust that this will continue. However, should you develop any pain that is not relieved with over the counter medications, or swelling should develop, please call our emergency #. That # is 888-8888. Ok, Jane?”
“Yes, that’s fine. Thank you. I’ll see you Monday”.
Scheduling Dental Emergency Patients Scripts #2
Now let’s take a look at the possible conversation with a perspective new patient who walks into the office asking for help. A man walks right up to your desk and you quickly identify he is new to the office.
“Hi” the gentleman says and smiles, “I’ve got a bad toothache and I was hoping the dentist might help. I live here in the neighborhood and drive by all the time. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a dentist.”
“Hello! I’m so glad you came by! My name is April. What’s your name?”
“John. John Green. This tooth has been killing me for days. I was hoping it would go away. I even put some cloves on it, and I’ve been rinsing with salt water, but it is even waking me up at night. It just keeps getting worse”.
“Well, you’ve come to the right place. We can help you with that. We can start with getting an x-ray of that tooth and having Dr. Sarah take a look for you. Do you have a photo ID with you today? Do you have dental insurance helping you with this today?”
“Yes, I do have a photo ID? No dental insurance. I’ll pay cash. How much do you think that will cost?
“Let’s say $100.00 or so for your x-ray and exam. We’ll certainly talk to you if there is something more Dr. Sarah would like to do today and discuss cost with you before doing anything. Don’t worry.”
“Dr Sarah is happy to see you. She is with a scheduled patient right now, and we can work on fitting you into her chair if you want to wait. If you would rather come back I can put you in her schedule today at 4 p.m? What works best for your schedule?”
“I’ll wait if that’s okay. How long do you think it will be?”
“John, I really can’t say. It really depends on how our day progresses. Let me give you some paperwork to start with, and I’ll let Dr. Sarah know you are waiting.”
Scheduling Dental Emergency Patients Well Grows Your Practice
As you can see, the idea is to not drive your perspective new patient to another dental office. I have seen a tremendous amount of dentistry and some great new patients come from welcoming walk in patients and working them into your schedule.
There are dental offices who are contracted and paying for referral programs to send them new patients. Don’t send patients asking to get into your dental chair running to someone else’s chair.
If you are reading this as a dental front office team member, and you are having trouble scheduling emergency patients on the same day they call, talk to your doctor. Let them know what’s happening. Ask for help! Show them this article.
For the doctors or practice managers who are reading this today, don’t assume that all is well in your dental practice. Ask your dental front office team if scheduling emergency patients is causing them stress. Ask your dental front office if they ever have to send potential new patients away because they don’t know where to schedule them.