12 Dec 2014  •  Practice Management  •  5min read By  • Sheila Scott

Mind The Gap

Sheila Scott shares some tried-and-tested methods to keeping your appointment book busy and gap-free.

A full appointment book is what every dentist wants to see and most will admit to looking at the next week or so hoping to see no white spaces (bar the odd one here and there for emergencies). Worryingly, I’m hearing more frequent reports of bigger gaps appearing.

 Why are there gaps in your appointment book?

There are a number of reasons behind gappy appointment books, but each depends on the practice. For some it may be that there’s an increase in competition and for others it could be that patients are putting off treatments for longer, accepting lower-cost treatments, or simply just staying away.

Do remember though, that even in difficult markets there are some practices that are still ‘too busy’. How do they manage this whilst others are struggling?

Aside from the usual tricks of doing a great job at promoting their care and services, monitoring and perfecting their appointment booking or recall systems, and finding more new services to offer to new or existing patients, practices with busy appointment books are great at paying a great deal of attention to their delivery of care, and to clear and meaningful communications with every patient.

What do patients want from you?

When asked what is ‘very important’ when visiting their dental practices, patients consistently tell us that trusting the dentist and being able to access treatments that ensure the health of teeth and gums are at the top of their lists. So, how well do you deliver?

How to deliver more appreciated care

Taking into consideration what it is your patients want, here are some of my top tips for improving your customer care and the communication which runs alongside it.


Dentistry is a relationship business. Patients who believe their dentist really cares for them will take up their dentist’s advice without question, and without too much concern about costs. These patients are also the ones who pay their dentist the ultimate compliment – through a positive testimonial or recommendations to their family and friends! On the other hand, patients won’t want to visit a practice where they don’t trust the team or dentist.

Therefore, it’s essential that every dental team pays attention to how they make patients feel whilst they are visiting. I recommend using your next practice meeting as an opportunity to discuss what each member of the team could do to help improve the way patients feel when visiting the practice, and in particular, help patients improve their relationships with the whole dental team.

 Play a game

Much better than just trying to identify how each team member can improve service – try asking each functional group in your practice, i.e. your receptionists, your dentists and your nurses, to imagine that they swap roles with each other – and then pick one thing to perfect in their new role. When nurses get a chance to pretend they are dentists, and receptionists to pretend they are nurses, it’s amazing how many recommendations they come up with for improving patient experience and appreciation. (This particular game also allows to work on the weak areas they have spotted in someone else’s role without having to criticise their colleagues directly.)

 Focusing on health

Too many practices still get over excited about promoting treatments at the expense of promoting what most patients are really hoping for – the clean bill of health. Although some patients do walk into practices with a specific treatment need, or a desire for more attractive teeth and gums, don’t forget that the vast majority are coming in desperately hoping you ‘don’t find anything’. Celebrate the clean bill of health and tell patients why regular return visits will benefit them!

On my rounds to practices, I always recommend using an 11, 14 or 16 point dental health check. This ensures that every dentist communicates each check they complete and provides a dental health report or summary card to their patients to prove the breadth and depth of the regular exam appointment.

 Recommend your hygienist

Busy, successful practices build their patient appreciation by recommending a hygiene programme, specifically to those patients who are at risk of, or are showing signs of, gum inflammation, and communicating why very clearly. These practices measure and monitor progress at every visit and prove to patients that they are focused on, and celebrate, good dental health.

Patients love this approach! They keep their appointments, become healthier every visit, become more interested in definitive restorations and cosmetic opportunities, and help you to build the sustainability of your practice.

If you’re looking for more tips and advice from Sheila and other industry experts, why not head on over to our Resource Library to take a look at more business-focused articles.

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