Are broken appointments holding your practice back?

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

Your day was running along pretty smoothly until your Scheduling Coordinator told you the news: your 3 p.m. appointment just cancelled. You know she’ll do her best to find someone to take the slot, but you also know it’s already 2:40, so the chances of getting another patient in the chair are pretty slim.

This is a frustrating scenario that brings nothing but trouble. Broken appointments wreak havoc on your schedule and cost you money, and that holds your practice back. 

Just how big is the problem? Let me give you some perspective. If your practice averages two cancellations/no-shows a day, at a value of about $100–$125 each, you’re losing more than $40,000 a year—and that’s before you factor in the lost production you never had the chance to diagnose.

Those numbers are pretty alarming, which is why I want to help you determine what’s keeping patients from showing up to their appointments so you can put a plan in place to reduce the number of cancellations and no-shows you deal with each day. Here are common reasons patients don’t make dental appointments a priority, and how you can change their mindset:

They don’t see the value in the care you provide
If patients don’t understand why it’s so important to maintain their oral health, and how you can help them meet their goals, they won’t see any reason to show up for routine appointments or to go forward with treatment you recommend. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to educate your patients about their condition and how their mouth affects the rest of their body. They’ll see why oral health should be a priority, making them much less likely to flake out when it’s time for their appointment.

While providing education and addressing patient concerns chairside is key to shifting your patients’ mindset, it shouldn’t end there. I suggest you and your team members start looking at every patient interaction as an opportunity to educate. Stay in touch with patients after their appointment with educational newsletters, and include materials that cover general health topics as well as services you provide when you send out statements. Put brochures or better yet and endless loop video on a giant tv scrren in your reception area that patients can look over while they’re waiting, and place before and after photos that illustrate your great work on your walls. When you show patients what you can do, they’ll see the value in your services.

You also need to create a sense of urgency. Patients look for reasons to skip appointments or delay treatment, so if you and your team members give them the impression there’s no rush, they won’t see a problem with cancelling appointments or not scheduling at all. Make sure patients understand the possible consequences of ignoring the problems you’ve identified and why they should move forward with treatment. Train your hygienists to do the same, and you’ll find you have a fuller schedule with fewer broken appointments sending your day into chaos.

They don’t understand how not showing up hurts your practice
Your patients are busy people and are focused on the tasks they must complete each day. They might not think about how cancelling an appointment at the last minute to free up their schedule impacts your practice, which is why I suggest you tell them. How? Create a cancellation policy and communicate this policy every time a patient schedules an appointment.

Through the policy, ask patients to cancel appointments at least two days in advance so another patient can see the doctor at that time. Trust me, when patients know you have a policy in place, they’ll be much less likely to call and cancel half an hour before they’re supposed to be there.

They simply forgot
This goes back to the fact your patients are busy people who are juggling work, life and family commitments. As much as you would like it to be, their Tuesday morning dental appointment isn’t always top of mind—especially if they scheduled that appointment six months ago.

Sometimes patients don’t show up simply because they forgot about the appointment. To reduce the likelihood of this happening, I suggest you confirm appointments with every patient two days in advance. Find out if they prefer to receive reminders via email, text or phone call, then use that method. This gives patients the opportunity to reschedule if they have a conflict, while also giving you more time to find someone else to take the opening.

They were worried about the cost of treatment
Even if patients accept treatment, they may have second thoughts about the price tag—and that could prompt them to cancel at the last minute or just not show up. To help make treatment more affordable, I suggest you consider offering third party financing from companies like CareCredit. When patients know they can make small monthly payments, they’re more comfortable scheduling and actually completing treatment.

Broken appointments are a costly problem that hold practices back. Revenues take a hit while production suffers. Knowing why patients aren’t showing up will help you develop a plan to reduce cancellations and no-shows in your office, which in turn will boost production numbers as well as your bottom line.

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Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com
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