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How to Count Open Hours


Dear Sharyn,

At our last staff meeting, the question came up about how to count unfilled hygiene hours. We were confused about whether we should count open “units” (and divide by 60 to get hours) or should each fillable slot (in our case 40min for kids, 50min for adults) be counted as an “hour.” Which is better?

M.S., TN

Dear M.S.

This feels like the beginning of a Shakespeare quote: How shall we count our unfilled hours, let me share the ways… I generally focus on unfilled appointment slots – meaning your hygienist was ready to work but didn’t see a patient – regardless of the time allotted. But whether you focus on units or appointments depends on what you want to measure and the problem you want to solve.

  • Counting open units helps you assess your scheduling efficiency. You’re measuring whether you’re effectively reserving and scheduling appointments at the best times to maximize the hygienist’s productivity.
  • Counting unfilled appts means you’re assessing patient motivation and your practice’s ability to “save” sand reschedule appointments.

But the bottom line in measuring any metric is how it influences the questions the team should be asking.  These can include:

  1. How do we maximize hygiene productivity given the finite time we have?
  2. What can we do differently so that patients are less likely to cancel?
  3. What, if anything, do we need to change about how we schedule hygiene patients so we minimize open units?

I will also note that some hygienists like having unfilled appts or units because it creates a down time for them. So – ironically- while you’re pushing for full days – they’re not as enthusiastic – and can unconsciously sabotage the effort.  Therefore, another important question is:

What should hygienists do during their open appointments/units that provides value to the practice, consistent with their high salaries?

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