As a coach for dental practices, one of the major areas of stress that we see in the daily operations is the way the team handles last minute emergencies. What usually happens is a patient calls with a concern and they are squeezed into the schedule between regularly scheduled clients. The result is serious time management issues that diminish the patient care and cause stress.

There will always be some emergencies that can’t be avoided completely because of accidents, trauma, and unpredictable dentistry. Identify the reasons your clients are experiencing emergencies. Ask yourself; is there anything I could have done to prevent this pain and suffering? The reactive approach that you implement for the emergencies that you can’t prevent should be predictable.

Assess your current situation.
Analyze your past months history of emergency clients. Count the number of emergencies in the month and divide by the number of days worked. You will have a number that is manageable, disruptive, or downright stressful. Look at the kind of client that is calling; is it an active client, new client, or someone whose last visit was four years ago and they want to re-enter the practice.

Determine the reason for the emergency and look at re-occurring patterns. What are the three most common reasons you have emergencies. Have the team participate in a group discussion on the reasons for emergency visits on a daily basis. Classify them into the top three and ask yourself; are they valid reasons? Are the emergencies because of dentistry that you diagnosed that was not accepted by the client? Are the emergencies because we observed or watched the condition until it broke? Do your clients think you are a walk-in clinic?

Practice Philosophy
Using your treatment philosophy and team member’s input, develop a practice definition on what is a “true” emergency. There are a lot of times that we assume all concerns need to be treated the same day, when in fact most are not what you would call true emergencies. Once the team has developed a practice criterion, they can begin telephone interviewing skills and listening to confirm the emergency condition and whether it falls into the practice philosophy of same day treatment. An example of conditions that warrant scheduling a client the same day may be the answers to the following questions.

• Is this a trauma or accident case?
• Is the client suffering from hot sensitivity, up all night, swollen, and constant throbbing?

Using forms and telephone checklists will help to develop a system for telephone skills and questions.

Stay tuned next week to learn scheduling tips for treating emergencies