Article Date: 2/1/2003

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Scheduling One Block At a Time
Everyone wins when you dedicate blocks of time to different tasks.
By Gary Gerber, O.D.

It's 10 a.m. on the busiest day of the week. Your 10:00 patient is on time. Your 9:00 is one hour late and your 11:00 is one hour early. Now instead of having one patient at 10:00 you have three.

Fast forward to between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. that afternoon when you're booked solid and see no patients. No shows strike again!

No matter how hard we try, some patients will always be early, some will be late and other just won't show. (In a related aside, one new technology item I've been using with clients that helps reduce no shows is JambaTalk -- call 800-371-0217 for a demonstration).

We can't change human nature, but we can maximize the hand we're dealt.

Hail, hail the gang's all here

Some of our clients have been successful with block (or gang) scheduling. With this technique, instead of assigning patients to appointment slots throughout the course of a full work day, we intentionally load up prime-time slots.

One of the basic tenets of marketing is that it's difficult to create a market where none exists. When we apply this idea to scheduling we can see that it would be difficult to attempt to grow a practice by offering appointments on Sunday from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Even being open when none of your competitors are, only the rare insomniac would show up for an eyeglass adjustment during these hours.

Conversely, many of us have found, that like many retail businesses, Thursday nights are busy. Using block scheduling, the astute doctor would consider closing Thursday during the day and opening later Thursday night.

ILLUSTRATION BY DEBRA DIXON

Blocking for better business

As long as you have enough staff to handle the extra patients with block scheduling, you can create an atmosphere that we call a spending frenzy. It's said that success begets success. The spending frenzy phenomenon occurs when a patient enters your dispensary and sees many others carefully being attended to and realizes that she's next. This way, the process of selecting a frame becomes more of an enjoyable shopper's privilege than a vision-impaired patient necessity. Similarly, when your tech escorts a patient from your waiting room to see you, they'll feel that their special time with you has begun.

Of course, block scheduling shouldn't imply longer waiting times. For the concept to work, you must be adequately staffed. The perfect scenario starts with a patient walking into a seemingly hectic and full office -- and being tended to immediately. The message to convey to each patient is, "Even though we're extremely busy, we've been waiting for you and are ready to serve you. It's your turn to join in the festivities!"

Time to do the to do's

The other major advantage of block scheduling is that it frees you up for other non-patient care tasks -- those items on your practice management to-do list that you never have time for. I frequently advocate clients schedule these things into the other portion of a blocked day. Need to do some long overdue computer maintenance? Schedule it right into your appointment book.

"But Gary, if I do that I'll have fewer time slots to see patients."

Exactly. Force yourself to be busy and productive in smaller definable blocks of time instead of spreading out the work over larger chunks of time.

Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice, a company specializing in making optometrists more profitable.  Learn more at www.powerpractice.com or call Dr. Gerber at (800) 867-9303.


Optometric Management, Issue: February 2003