Killing Time, Clobbering Profits
The clock on the wall says 2:10. The patient was scheduled for a 2 p.m. appointment. It’s “dead time” in the dental office. Mid-afternoon for many practices sees production slow to a trickle. These tend to be some of the most difficult times to fill and the most likely to generate no-shows and cancellations. The hygienist and the scheduling coordinator commiserate over the likelihood that “Mr. Frank” isn’t coming in.
The hygienist decides to grab a magazine and relax in the break room for a bit, thereby making zero contribution to the 33% of practice production that he is responsible for achieving. The scheduling coordinator, whose job description should include ensuring that the hygienist is scheduled to meet specific production goals, doesn't give the no-show a second thought. Instead, the afternoon lull offers her the opportunity to do a quick-scan on her Facebook page. While these two are killing time until the next patient walks in, practice profits and production goals are getting pounded.
Take steps to keep the schedule full and patients in the chair. Educate patients about the impact on the practice of last minute cancellations and no-shows. Many are completely oblivious to the fact that the appointment has been set aside specifically for them, that the doctor and/or the hygienist have prepared specifically for this patient's procedure, and that someone else also in need of dental care could have taken advantage of that appointment if they had been given the opportunity.
Additionally, it is essential that patients are politely reminded of the practice’s cancellation policy on a regular basis. It should be printed on appointment cards, mentioned in conversations, as well as included in text messages and emails. And patients who are 10 minutes late for their scheduled appointment should be called promptly to confirm that they are on their way. For example: “Hello Mr. Frank. This is Abigail from Dr. Adams’ office. We were expecting you for your appointment at 2:00, and I was concerned because you had not arrived yet.”
Listen carefully to the patient’s response. He may be on the way and stuck in traffic. He might have had a legitimate emergency. Life does happen, and it’s important for staff to be sensitive to that when contacting patients. However, it’s also critical to document all no-shows and last minute cancellations into the patient’s record to track if situations such as this are occasional or common. If the patient tends to have a history of missed appointments, suggest that the practice will contact him when an opening is available. “Mr. Frank, we seem to be having difficulty coordinating a time that is convenient for you. I don’t have any available appointments currently; however, I have your appointment information, and I will contact you when an opening becomes available.”
When it comes to ensuring the schedule is full and production goals are met, filling open appointment times in the hygiene schedule must be a priority for the business staff. If there is less than ½ day notice of a cancellation, move an existing, scheduled patient from another day into that time. If a patient gives more than ½ day notice, contact patients listed on the recall report that need appointments. Those patients who are overdue for recall should be given priority because they are the most likely not to return unless the practice is diligent in contacting them and makes an ongoing effort to emphasize the importance of regularly scheduled oral health care appointments.
Retaining existing patients is as important to the continued growth of the practice as is recruiting new patients. And keeping the hygiene schedule full is a key element in maintaining a solid patient base. It is essential to establish patient retention goals as well as new patient goals based on the office's past performance. For example, let's say your practice goal is to increase patient numbers by 50% annually. The practice averages 200 recall patients per month and retains 90%, 180 patients are retained and 20 are not. Therefore, the practice needs to see 40 new patients each month to reach the goal.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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