Zoning your diary – where do you begin?

Zoe Close talks to Lisa Bainham about the best approach to zoning your diary.

Structuring your appointments into zones ensures staff are prepared and know what to expect from each day, making for an efficient practice, calm atmosphere and positive patient journey. It can also help to reduce white space in the diary, which, of course, brings financial benefits.

But, how do you actually set about introducing zones into your diary? I spoke to Lisa Bainham, practice manager at The Old Surgery in Crewe and president of the Association of Dental Administrators and Managers (ADAM), for her advice.

Zoe Close (ZC): Can you share with us how you manage the appointment book at The Old Surgery?

Lisa Bainham (LB): We’ve zoned the diary into specific sections. For example, we have longer appointments for bigger treatments, times for seeing new patients, which includes spending time with the treatment coordinator, and we also have separate times to see children.

As a busy mixed practice with a child’s exempt contract, controlling the times that different types of appointments – in terms of the treatment that will be delivered and therefore, the length of time they will take – are held improves efficiency as the team know what to expect, and it also helps too with providing a positive patient journey.

For example, we have our children’s appointments on Monday after school and hold specific children’s day events during each school holiday, which involves staff wearing fancy dress. This makes it a much more fun experience for children, which parents also appreciate – as well as the fact that it doesn’t involve time off school/work, and also means the chaos that children can sometimes bring is contained to set times so it doesn’t affect other patients.

ZC: What advice do you have for practices who want to start zoning their diary?

LB: Initially, I think the key is to start small – choose one thing that you want to achieve first, for example blocking off areas for NHS patients and areas for private patients, bearing in mind the need for access to NHS dentistry.

Once the team have got used to this, worked out any adjustments needed and have begun to see the benefits of zoning, you can then build on that momentum and add more zones for other types of treatment or patient.

ZC: When faced with the reality of patients at the front desk, how can practice managers ensure staff adhere to the zoning principles?

LB: You do need to be very disciplined with your team. We put a system in place which means that the computer will flag up if something has been booked in the wrong zone so you can correct it. However, you are dealing with human beings so there does sometimes need to be some flexibility, in which case you can override the system, but staff have to mark it as an exception and justify the reasoning.

This is particularly important for a mixed practice like us as it will affect the hourly rates and targets if private patients are booked in NHS zones, and vice versa.

ZC: You mentioned the benefits of zoning earlier, what do you think these are?

LB: It creates a calmer working atmosphere, as dentists know what to expect and can get ‘into the zone’ ie, so they’re not shifting between seeing a child followed by a complex treatment, they can just focus on one type of patient or treatment.

It also makes it easier on the front desk staff, as they should be more able to satisfy patient requirements. For example, keeping shorter appointments zoned together rather than being scattered will ensure it is easier to find the time for longer appointments, meaning less waiting time for complex treatments and also less white space in the diary.

Nurses and staff in the decontamination room also benefit as they can be more organised in terms of the kit and equipment you need.

ZC: It certainly sounds like a good step for practices to take. Thanks for sharing your experience and advice that will hopefully help others to reap the rewards of zoning.

You can hear more from Lisa about appointment zoning in a podcast with Zoe by visiting bit.ly/2rhJRus.

Practice Plan partners with over 1,500 dental practices and offers a wide range of business support services. If you would like to find out more about how it can support you to grow a profitable and sustainable practice, call 01691 684165 or visit building.practiceplan.co.uk.

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