Make a resolution to reduce broken appointments in 2020

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

Your Scheduling Coordinator just let you know Mrs. Smith called to cancel her 4:30 appointment. It’s 4:15. The chances of finding someone to replace her are pretty slim, which means you’re likely going to fall short of daily production goals. Again.

How often did this scenario play out in your practice in 2019? Once a week? Almost daily? If broken appointments were a common occurrence, I’m sure it caused you and your team members extra stress and hurt practice financials. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen in 2020.

While you’ll never completely eliminate broken appointments, there are steps you can take to significantly reduce them, as well as to make it easier to fill last-minute openings when they pop up. Put reducing broken appointments on your list of New Year’s resolutions, and you’ll see productivity and revenues rise. These tips can help get you started:

Confirm every appointment. Your patients have a lot going on, and dentistry usually isn’t top of mind. If they scheduled an appointment six months ago, odds are they’re not going to remember. That’s why you need to remind them. I suggest you have your Scheduling Coordinator confirm every appointment two days in advance. Use text, email or phone call, depending on what the patient prefers. To make this even easier, you can automate reminders via your patient communication system. You can even start sending out reminders a few weeks or even a few months in advance.

Consider changing the way you schedule patients. I know. You’ve pre-appointed patients for years, but hear me out. When you schedule every patient six months in advance, chances are something will come up that keeps them out of the chair—and that hurts practice production and revenues. It also gives the illusion your schedule is full when it really isn’t.

That’s why I suggest implementing a hybrid scheduling system. Continue scheduling your reliable patients six months in advance, and the rest when it’s closer to their due date. You’ll find more patients will make it in at their scheduled time.

Reach out to no-shows. Have your Scheduling Coordinator call to make sure patients who don’t show up are OK. Once she’s verified they’re fine and simply forgot about the appointment or got tied up with something else, she should work with them to schedule another appointment at a time that’s more convenient.

But don’t stop there. Use these calls as an opportunity to educate. Remind patients about the importance of maintaining their oral health, and how keeping their dental appointments can help them do that.

Go over all the details. When patients schedule, don’t just hand them their appointment card and send them on their way. Instead, have your Scheduling Coordinator go over every detail of their appointment. Confirm the day and time and let them know about how long the appointment will take. This will help cement the appointment in their mind.

Now is also the time to go over your cancellation policy. Ask patients to call at least two days in advance if they need to cancel.

Create a list of patients who can help you fill holes. There are always patients who would prefer to see the dentist earlier than their scheduled time. Keep a list of these patients handy and reach out to them when you have a hole to fill. It’s also a good idea to ask patients if they’re flexible with their appointment time. If they are, add them to this list as well. Your coordinator will have a much better shot at finding a replacement without all the stress of trying to figure out who to contact.

Flag unreliable patients. These are the patients you dread to see on the schedule. They always seem to cancel at the last minute, or just don’t show up at all. Flag these patients and wait to schedule them a few months or even a few weeks before they’re due. They’ll have a better idea of their schedule and will be better prepared to work their dental appointment into their busy day.

Don’t keep patients waiting. Many patients don’t show up simply because they don’t feel like they have time—especially if they know they’ll be sitting in your waiting area for 30 to 40 minutes before their appointment even begins. If your schedule is streamlined and your days scheduled to keep you productive, not busy, long patient wait times are less likely to be a problem.

Show them the value of the care you offer. This means providing education before, during and after the appointment. Place brochures at the front desk, put endless loop video on a giant TV screen in your reception area, and hang before and after photos that illustrate your great work on your walls. Educate patients chairside with images and video and stay in touch after their appointment with educational newsletters. All this will help patients see the value in what you do, making them more likely to show up.

Broken appointments wreak havoc on your day and your bottom line. Follow these tips in 2020 to reduce the damage they cause, ultimately growing practice productivity and revenues.

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