Donít Let Broken Appointments Damage Your Practice

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

Broken appointments can be pretty damaging to a practice. They lead to extra stress for your team members, send your schedule into chaos and cost you a significant amount of money. Last minute cancellations and no-shows are especially harmful if they’re a daily occurrence, yet most dentists convince themselves the headaches broken appointments bring are all just part of practice ownership.

While it’s true you’ll never completely eliminate broken appointments (as nice as that would be) there are steps you can take to greatly reduce them in your practice—as well as make them easier to deal with when they do happen. Interested in learning more? Read on for my tips:

Send out patient reminders. If patients don’t show up, it might simply be because they forgot about their appointment. This won’t happen if you send out reminders. I suggest you train your Scheduling Coordinator to confirm every appointment two days in advance, either via text, phone call or email (depending on what patients prefer). Patient communication systems also can automate this process, making it easier to start sending out reminders a few weeks or even a few months in advance—which is especially useful if you pre-appoint six months out.

Don’t rely on pre-appointing alone. Speaking of pre-appointing, now might be the time to consider implementing a hybrid scheduling system in your practice. I know many dentists have relied on pre-appointing for years, but when you schedule patients six months out, there’s a good chance something else will come up that keeps them from making it to your office. It also gives the illusion your schedule is full when it really isn’t. Instead of pre-appointing everyone, consider only scheduling reliable patients who are known for keeping their appointments.

Contact patients who don’t show up. Your Scheduling Coordinator should reach out to every patient who misses an appointment. First, make sure they’re OK (remember you have no idea why they didn’t make it in) then work with them to find a time that’s convenient for them to reschedule. You also can use this as an opportunity to educate patients about the importance of maintaining their oral health and keeping their dental appointments.

Go over appointment details. When patients schedule with your practice, the Scheduling Coordinator should go over every detail of the appointment with them, including day, time and how long it will take. Before they go, remind patients of your cancellation policy and to ask them to contact your practice at least two days in advance if they no longer can keep their appointment. Let them know this makes it possible for another patient to see the doctor at that time.

Develop a list of patients you can contact to fill holes in the schedule. There are always patients who would prefer to see the dentist earlier than their scheduled time, or who are flexible and wouldn’t mind moving their appointment. Keep a list of these patients, and then have your Scheduling Coordinator contact them when a broken appointment creates a hole in the schedule. This will make the process of filling openings much less stressful, and will help you meet your production goals even on days when you find yourself dealing with broken appointments.

Mark patients who are unreliable. When you see certain patients on the schedule, you know there’s a good chance they’re going to call at the last minute to reschedule or just not show up at all. These are the patients I suggest you mark as unreliable. Instead of scheduling them months in advance, let them know the office will call them closer to when they’re due to come in. They should have a better idea of what their schedule will be, making them more likely to keep the appointment. I suggest you flag patients as unreliable after two no-shows.

Make it easy for patients to keep their appointments. Patients don’t have a lot of time to spare during their day, so if they know they’ll have to spend a few hours in your reception area before they’re even called back to see you, they may opt to cancel so they can use that time to check other items off their to-do list.

Train your Scheduling Coordinator to keep your days productive and you on track so patients aren’t left waiting. I also suggest you consider extending your office hours. Early morning, evening and sometimes weekend hours are often more convenient for patients. If they can schedule appointments during those timeframes, there’s a better chance they won’t flake out.

If broken appointments are common in your practice, they’re causing more damage than you realize. There is a reason of why. When patients continuously cancel at the last minute or simply don’t show up at all, team morale suffers as does your bottom line.  Maybe it’s time, now, to find out the real reason behind this damage to your practice. Let’s talk!  Call me, 877-777-6151.

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