Managing Dental Emergencies Successfully & Sanely
Managing dental emergencies successfully begins with an accurate assessment. The dental front office team member must first learn what the dentist expects in their daily schedule. Communication is key. It’s critical for the front office team to know how the dentist wants emergency calls handled. The front office team also needs to know how to identify what emergency patients should be scheduled today and who can wait.
Let’s begin with the end in mind. We’ll go backwards from there. Let’s define what a “dental emergency is”. Because in your patients’ minds, it’s all equal. It’s their mouth. So, it’s an emergency. I can understand that. Try to identify with your patient’s need for immediate attention. Hear them. Agree with them that they do require immediate attention. But first things first here. The dental front office team member is able to provide the initial level of care the patient needs.
What do you want your schedule to look like? Create your block schedule, if you haven’t yet. Then, allow 2 spots for scheduled emergency care in each dentist’s schedule. Next, decide where you want to put those emergency patient blocks. The important thing is to be sure you have these blocks in the best spot for your practice. And be sure you don’t schedule anything else in those emergency blocks.
Then, define which dental emergencies you allow to disrupt your daily schedule. Every patient deserves excellent care and attention. There is a balance to maintain. The dental patient in the chair for a 6 unit veneer appointment is important. The patient on the phone with a broken tooth is important. So, how do we bring it all together. And how do we keep everyone happy and stay on schedule?
Define Which Dental Emergencies Interrupt Your Day’s Schedule
Emergency patients scheduled poorly disrupt your regular scheduled patients. Know this going in. Now, I’m talking about patients who are taking the doctor’s time. Any procedure performed by a dental assistant doesn’t fall into this category. For example, re-making a temporary crown is scheduled with the dental assistant. Therefore, this appointment is scheduled the same day easily.
The list shows you what to schedule for same day emergency appointments:
- Emergency Patient Blocked Time. The doctor is available at this time. This block is designated specifically for emergency patient care. It is scheduled ahead or used for same day care.
- Trauma from a recent accident. This patient is seen immediately. Ask a few additional questions. Then, instruct your patient to come in immediately.
- Active bleeding. Schedule patients with active bleeding that day. Gather additional assessment information. Review this with the dentist or a dental assistant if necessary. Then, schedule your patient the same day.
- Swelling in tissues, cheek or neck. Don’t play with this. Don’t let patients slide with this. Schedule patients with swelling on the same day.
- Patient has recently completed a procedure in the office or is in the middle of a procedure that requires several appointments. Let’s take care of these patients same day. It’s the right thing to do.
- Recent onset of pain that is severe. We certainly don’t want anyone to suffer. However, a patient who experiences pain for 3 weeks, and then wants a same day appointment may need to wait. This is where our assessments help.
Managing Dental Emergencies Successfully With Assessments
Dental front office team members are not dentists. They don’t have the training or education that dentists have. However, they are on the front line. Dental emergency patients reach the dental front office team first. Where does the dental front office team begin? Let’s begin with an assessment form. An assessment form will support the dental front office. And it will help get the dentist the information they need to make decisions about the schedule.
Download my Dental Patient Assessment Form now. And let’s take a look at this to see what to do next. I’ll also help you with what to ask your dental emergency patients.
Managing dental emergencies successfully means knowing what to ask patients. This Dental Emergency Assessment Form will give you some guided steps to take before scheduling.
Scripts For Dental Emergency Patient Assessments
Establish who the patient is. Sometimes, people call for patients. A mother calls for a child. Or a wife might call for her husband. If someone other than the patient has called, ask if you can speak to the patient. Of course, if the patient is a child, that’s one thing. But if your patient is an adult, its’ best to speak to them directly. They know better than anyone what is going on. It’s very difficult to do a good assessment through a third-party.
“Thank you for calling today, Sally. So.. It’s your son, Bruce, that has a toothache. Is Bruce there with you? No? Is there a number where I can reach him directly. I have some questions I need to ask about his toothache? Great! Thank you!” Then be sure to write that number down somewhere on your form too!
Is the patient a current patient, a past patient, or a new patient? This also helps the dentist in making decisions. A past patient is an inactive patient and hasn’t been seen for 18 months. You might be able to easily determine this by just looking in your system. So, take the time to see if you can pull your patient up before moving on. If they tell you they are a patient, you also want to check for their last appointment in your office. And you also want to check for account balances.
“Thank you, Bruce. I’m going to open your chart. Great! I’ve got it. It looks like Dr. Brown saw you last about a year ago. Have you seen anyone else since Dr. Brown saw you last?”
Does the problem involve a tooth? Sometimes, patients call with something else. For example, a jaw problem or a tongue problem. If the answer is yes, move onto finding more about that tooth.
“Okay, Bruce. You’ve got some pain. Can you determine where that pain is coming from? Is it upper or lower? Oh.. both. Gotcha. Is it on your right or left? Okay. Good. Now, please tell me more about the pain. When did it start? Is it constant? Do you have any temperature sensitivity? Are you taking any pain reliever or medications?”
If the problem is not a tooth problem, get detailed information about what the problem is. If it’s a jaw problem, ask how long there has been pain. Are they taking anything or doing anything. You may have to turn your assessment page over to make notes if the call is about something totally different. Make notes that are clear and concise.
Schedule Dental Emergency Patients Based On Your Assessment
Patients who meet the same day schedule criteria are scheduled the same day. Let’s say you completed your emergency patient assessment. Your patient meets the criteria to be scheduled that day. Schedule your patient in an emergency block if one is available that day. You can also use another open appointment time if you have a change in your schedule. Otherwise, you might need to check with your doctor or dental assistant. If you need to check on the best time, be sure to get the best number where you can reach your patient.
All other patients are scheduled into another day. Use your designated blocks for emergency patients. Also use your short notice call list. Let your patient know that you would be happy to call them with any schedule changes to move their appointment forward.
“Bruce, I’m going to schedule you to see Dr. Brown on Wednesday at 12:00 noon. I know. That is 2 days out. But I’m also going to call you if anything changes in his schedule between now and then. I’m also going to review your chart with Dr. Brown. I’ll let him know you called and what is happening. I’ll call you right away if he thinks we should do something more right now. I also want you to call us if you develop any swelling or a change in your symptoms. Okay?”
Managing Dental Emergencies Successfully With Great Communication
Be sure to talk to your dentist about all emergency patient calls. Set aside your completed Dental Emergency Assessment Forms to review with your dentist. They might need additional information or what you to do something for the patient that has called. Be sure to provide these forms to the dental assistants and dentist for same day schedules too! It’s great information for the team to have before the patient arrives.
Dental office life can be easier for everyone if the first step is an assessment. The second step is always to stick to the plan. Keep schedules on track when you stick to the plan. If you need to re-evaluate your blocks for emergency patients, do so. It’s a whole lot easier to add or subtract emergency patient blocks than to live a crazy schedule day after day.