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Don't Let Broken Appointments Wreak Havoc On Your Day
By Sally McKenzie, CEO

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Every time a patient doesn’t show up for a scheduled appointment, it costs you money. If you can’t find someone else to take the opening, it pretty much ensures you won’t meet that day’s production goals—which hurts your bottom line and puts extra stress on you and your team members. Broken appointments bring nothing but trouble, which is why it’s time to make some changes if last-minute cancellations and no-shows have become a problem in your practice.

Many dentists I talk with are just resigned to the fact that broken appointments are part of the job. While it’s true you’ll never eliminate them entirely, there are steps you can take to significantly reduce broken appointments and the many headaches they cause.

Interested in learning more? Follow these tips to get more patients in the chair during their scheduled time:

Go over appointment details. When scheduling patients, don’t just give them an appointment card and send them on their way. Instead, say something like this:

“Mr. Day, you have a one-hour appointment scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 21. If you can’t keep this appointment, please call our office at least two days in advance. That will give another patient the opportunity to see the doctor at that time.”

Communicate your cancellation policy. Developing a cancellation policy won’t do you much good if your patients don’t know about it. Remind patients of your policy every time they schedule an appointment.

Flag unreliable patients. After patients flake out twice, mark them as unreliable—and don’t pre-appoint them. Tell them you’ll be in touch when an opening comes up.

Now what if one of these patients wants to make an appointment in advance? This is how I suggest you handle it:

“Mrs. Snyder, we seem to be having trouble coordinating a time that works for your schedule and ours. I don’t have any appointments available at this time. However, I do have all your information and will contact you when there’s an opening.”

Make hygiene a priority. When patients cancel a hygiene appointment, it should be your Scheduling Coordinator’s priority to fill it. If the cancelling patient gives you less than half a day notice, try to move a scheduled patient from another day into that slot. When you have more notice, contact overdue patients on the recall list.

Pick up the phone. After a patient is about 10 minutes late, I suggest you have your Scheduling Coordinator call that patient. Let him or her know you’re worried, and then use the phone call as an opportunity to provide education about the value of dentistry and the services you provide.

Here’s an example of what the coordinator should say to start the conversation:

“Hello Mr. Jones. This is Angie from Dr. Reed’s office. We were expecting you for your appointment at 1 p.m. I’m concerned because you haven’t arrived yet. Is everything OK?”

Remember to listen carefully to the patient’s response. You might find out she’s dealing with a family emergency, or is having car trouble. Although it’s frustrating when patients don’t show up, it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes things happen we simply can’t control. Be sensitive to their situation and work with them to reschedule. If you can’t reach the patient that day, plan to follow up later.

No matter when you get them on the phone, use the opportunity to politely let them know how last minute cancellations and no-shows throw off your schedule. Most patients don’t realize you set-aside time specifically for them, and don’t think about the headaches they cause when they don’t honor their appointment time.

Think about extending your hours. Taking time off during the workday can be difficult for some patients. Even if they schedule an appointment time, inevitability a meeting or something else will pop up, keeping them from actually making the appointment. If this describes your patients, consider offering early morning, evening and weekend hours. This differentiates your practice from those that keep more of a 9 to 5 schedule, and may make it easier for patients to find (and stick to) appointment times that work for them.

Create value. If patients don’t see value in the services you provide, they’re not going to make their appointments a priority. Spend time educating them about the importance of maintaining their oral health and the possible consequences of ignoring problems. Educated patients are more likely to schedule treatment and to show up on time.

Think about how much less stressful your days would be and how much more money you could bring in if you didn’t have to deal with broken appointments. Following these tips will help you significantly reduce cancellations and no-shows in your office.

For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side

Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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Nancy Caudill
Senior Consultant
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Fix Production Woes with These Tips
By Nancy Caudill, Senior Consultant

Dentist Case Study #103

The doctor’s concerns: “Last minute cancellations and no-shows are at an all-time high in my practice. To make matters worse, fewer patients are accepting treatment. As a result, both team morale and my bottom line are taking a hit.”

Unfortunately, many practices are plagued by low production numbers—and they have no idea why. Broken appointments wreak havoc on their schedule on a regular basis, while even patients they think are ready to go forward with treatment never schedule. This can be pretty stressful, leaving dentists struggling to pay their bills. In this case, our doctor was growing more and more concerned about the future of his practice.

That’s why he came to us. We helped him reduce the number of broken appointments he deals with each day and gave him proven strategies to boost case acceptance. Here’s a closer look at the problems he was facing and the solutions he implemented:

Broken appointments
It got to the point where 2-3 patients a day were either cancelling at the last minute or not showing up for their appointments at all. Not only that, he typically had 3-4 openings a day in his hygiene schedule. With those numbers, it’s no surprise this practice wasn’t meeting its production goals. But why was this happening? Even though team members called to confirm appointments with patients two days in advance, many of them didn’t call back—so they never actually confirmed they’d be there.

The solution? If you leave a voicemail, ask patients to call back to verbally confirm, with the understanding the appointment will be canceled without that confirmation. It’s also a good idea to ask patients how they prefer to confirm appointments with the office. Keep in mind many patients would rather respond to a text or an email than take time out of their busy day to make a phone call. If you make it easy for them, patients will be more likely to confirm the appointment and then actually show up.

Patients just aren’t accepting treatment
Our doctor couldn’t understand why his case acceptance numbers were so low. After going over recommendations with patients, it always seemed like they understood the need for treatment and were ready to schedule. Unfortunately, most never did.

The problem? The doctor was only spending about 10 minutes talking with patients about treatment chairside. While he thought that was plenty of time, it really wasn’t, and patients left with many unanswered questions and concerns.

We suggested he hire a Treatment Coordinator instead to take over case presentations for all producers. This team member could spend as much time as necessary educating patients about their condition and the recommended treatment, giving them the opportunity to ask any questions they have in a comfortable environment.

We also discovered no one from the office was following up after the initial presentation. Now, the Treatment Coordinator calls two days later, ready to answer any additional questions and to get the patient on the schedule.

Offering third party financing like CareCredit is another way to encourage patients to accept treatment—and is another strategy this doctor used to improve case acceptance. Many patients say no simply because they can’t afford it. CareCredit gives them the ability to pay a little at a time, which makes the cost much more manageable.

Patients can’t find appointment times that work for their schedule
This doctor kept hearing the same thing from his patients: “I just can’t take the time off work for this treatment. Do you have any evening or weekend hours?” At the time he didn’t. Now he does, and it’s made a huge difference in his case acceptance numbers.

Remember, your patients are busy people. The more you can accommodate their schedules, the more likely they’ll be to accept treatment. Stay open late a few days a week or offer early morning hours so patients can come in before the work day. Consider opening on Saturday mornings to give patients another option that might fit their schedule.

When the doctor implemented these changes into his practice, he saw a huge difference. Fewer patients flaked out on their appointment times or canceled at the last minute. More patients began to schedule treatment, and he even got a few referrals thanks to his convenient Saturday morning hours. Now, instead of worrying about how he’s going to pay his bills, this doctor’s practice is finally flourishing. Implement these changes into your practice and yours will do the same.

If you would like more information on how McKenzie's Consulting Coaching Programs can help you implement proven strategies, email info@mckenziemgmt.com

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