Laura Horton asks the question that many dentists and managers need the answer to: ‘How do I best approach zoning the diary?’

I first ‘zoned’ a diary over 15 years ago. The vocational trainer (VT) that I was supporting was doing nothing but examinations, and he and I were both bored senseless. He needed to treat patients to gain experience and his patients needing treatment were waiting months as his diary was full with examinations. The plan was quite simple – fewer exams, more treatment. I placed zones in for only six examinations a day; the rest was blocked for treatment only.

When I began my last employment, my employer had a few goals for me, the number one being to help him sort out his diary. He was working all hours, running late, paying out heaps of overtime and never seeing his wife and daughter.

We were a private practice, which makes life easier with zoning as you are not restricted with your NHS contract. I am going to share with you two options for diary zoning to help you begin this process:

1. An intermediate plan

2. A fully comprehensive plan.

An intermediate plan

An intermediate plan would consist of a few zones that will eliminate system issues. For example, if you do not have zones for emergency patients every day and patients are being double booked, patient experience will be poor.

An intermediate plan would have three zones only and the remaining white space would still be used as it is now.

The three zones would be:

1. Emergency patients

2. New patients

3. High value treatments (root canal treatments, preps).

Emergency zones – do need to be audited so that you can rest assured you have the right amount of space. You will find you need more on some days than others, eg, Mondays or a Tuesday after a bank holiday.

I advise these zones are always after lunch, as this ensures the team get their lunch break.

New patient zones – also need to be audited, the idea being you can always get a patient in within seven days of their enquiry to ensure you keep momentum and the team can book the patient with the most appropriate dentist.

High value treatment zones – have to be zoned for a chunk of three to four hours at a time. Monday mornings are always a great zone for high value only. The desk is always busier on a Monday morning; by having this zone in place you are decreasing footfall and then allowing the front desk to deal with the higher number of phone calls. Some clinicians have this repeated on a Friday afternoon; however, many prefer high-end treatments only to be in the mornings as this is when they are fresh.

If you want to fully zone the appointment book there is more work to do to ensure you get it right. The benefit of fully zoning is that dentists will invoice through 75-80% of their daily target by lunchtime.

Where to start to fully zone the dentists’ diaries

You must work out your treatment mix figures as a percentage of your clinical time. This allows you to see the real picture. Confirming that you spend 65% of your time doing examinations might frighten you, but the facts do not lie

Conversion rates – you need to know how many new patients (NPs) you need a month per dentist based on the average NP spend and conversion rate. You must have your hourly rates set correctly – do not pluck figures out of thin air. If you do that, your fees are not correct either. Your fees must be 100% accurate for your business.

Three top zoning tips

1. Don’t forget that you can zone every diary! The hygienists, therapists, and treatment coordinators

2. The team must be trained on any diary zoning system

3. If you want diary zoning to work it has to be led by the clinicians…they have to explain to the patient that ‘the crown preparation appointment will be on a Monday  or Friday morning.’ The clinicians have the power to get the patient into the right place.