Handling Emergency Patients


Caring for emergency patients and not causing the scheduled patients to run behind or feel like they are not the priority.

Desired Result:

Emergency patients seen on the day they call and the patients on the schedule that day feel a consistent high level of care and excellence.

How To:

  1. Identify the type of emergencies commonly seen in your practice.  Sensitive to Hot or Cold, Broken Tooth, etc…
  2. Determine the provider coding of doctor time and assistant time for each type of emergency.  For example: the patient may be seated and the assistant will spend the first 10 minutes of the appointment taking an x-ray intra-oral photos of the problem tooth, and interviewing the patient.  The doctor spends 10 minutes getting the patient out of pain and prescribing the needed appointment.
  3. The dental assistant reviews the daily schedule and determines the best place to work in emergency time at the morning huddle, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. These are the natural breaks in the schedule or where you know you have an operatory available and the Doctor is able to modify the schedule to accommodate the emergency patient.
  4. Do not hold or block emergency time unless you routinely see 3 or more emergencies per day. You may want to hold time on Monday after the weekend or a vacation, or Friday before the start of the weekend or a vacation, if you see more emergency calls on these days.
  5. Provide palliative care whenever possible, do not “over treat” the emergency, unless you have open time in the appointment book you are trying to fill. Analyze the situation, prescribe any additional needed radiograph(s) or photos, get the patient out of pain, prescribe any medication necessary and reschedule for the needed treatment or refer the patient to a specialist.
  6. When a patient calls with an emergency, offer the two times that have been determined:

    Mrs. Smith, I am sorry to hear you are having a problem. Doctor will want to see you right away. He has emergency time today at 10:20 or at 1:50. Which would you prefer?

  7. If the emergency time has already been taken by other patients, ask the patient to come right over, so that you can work them into the schedule:

    Mrs. Smith, I know that the doctor will want see you right away, please come right over and I will do my best to work you in to the schedule. We do have a full day of patients so please understand that there will be a wait.

  8. Avoid offering the patient the end of the day as an option. This trains your patients to say that they have an emergency to get a “prime time” after work/school appointment.

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