Recall System Needing an Overhaul?
Recent communication with a dental office manager revealed the following scenario: The dentist owner had decided to limit the number of new patients allowed on the schedule for the week to two, putting new patients on an appointment wait list. A system of calling patients who had not scheduled or had canceled a hygiene appointment had stopped a year ago. “We have no place to put them so why should we call? Our hygiene schedule is booked out for three months solid and new patients want a cleaning with their examination appointment. We have too many patients.”
The quandary is that there were at least one to two cancellations per hygienist a day. Some of these were no-shows, others were cancellations the day before or often the day of. “We can usually fill the opening with patients on our list, but often there is one a day per hygienist not filled.”
No one in particular was in charge of the recall system because it was assumed that if they were booked out, they didn’t need to do anything. On further evaluation it was noted that diagnosing scaling and root planing had dropped off and more patients were put on shorter recall intervals instead of scheduling them for the periodontal therapy. “The reason is the schedule, we don’t have appointments available for scaling and root planing and we have to put everyone on a wait list for those services too.”
Was there really an access to care issue in this practice? Do they really have too many patients? Should they stop the flow of new patients into the practice? Should they ignore the recall system because they are busy enough?
With each hygienist allowed an hour per patient, when an appointment opened up anyone could be appointed - even children under the age of twelve. This was convenient, but not the best utilization of the hygienists’ valuable time. Since they were pre-scheduling based on the assumption that patients would show, it would be more time efficient to schedule based on the individual time allotment needed by the patient. This system would create time to see more patients.
Management studies show that appointments scheduled within one to two weeks of contact have a far better retention than those scheduled six months prior. Many patients would rather you remind them to schedule a month before they are due than to pre-schedule. With the technology of patient contact solutions, it is now far easier to contact patients using limited effort of existing manpower - and at a fraction of the cost of employing an extra person to make outbound calls.
When patients are not pre-scheduled, there is more time to get new patients in to see the hygienist, and also time to schedule scaling and root planing appointments. If the practice continues to pre-schedule, it is prudent to consider blocking time in the schedule for anticipated new patients and for scaling and root planing. If the times are not scheduled, patients on the wait list can be called and offered these times.
With 65-85% of repeat business coming directly from the hygiene department, this is not a system to ignore. In small practices it is the Business Coordinator, in larger practices a Patient Coordinator who is in charge of the recall system. A goal of 25 new patients per general dentist per month in a practice is necessary for growth. Patient retention is often overlooked as important to practice health and growth. Each year there is patient attrition for many reasons, so there should be access to your practice to replace that loss.
In the book “Building a Successful Recall System” by Sally McKenzie, there is a formula for determining how many hygiene days you need per week in your practice. This eliminates the question of whether you have too many patients for the days you are open.
The recall system is the cornerstone of practice success. It is important for patient retention, treatment acceptance and practice promotion. Need help overhauling your recall? Call McKenzie Management today and find out about our Front Office Training Program.Forward this article to a friend
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