Successful retention of patients starts with educating them on how the recall system works. Whenever you have patients who do not perform in the manner you desire, for example, keeping their recall visits, the first place you should look to understand why this is happening is your recall protocol. This educational process begins immediately, and is the entire teams responsibility including the doctor.
When there is a cancellation in the hygiene or the doctor’s schedule, getting the time filled should become the top priority to the person in charge of scheduling. If the patient cancels last minute or no shows, and it is only a couple of minutes into the appointment, then it becomes the entire teams concern. The operator now has the time to seek out another patient. Since you had a morning meeting and have gone over which patients in the current schedule may be able to fill these appointments this will be a quick process.
There may be a patient in the doctor’s schedule that is going to be dismissed soon and is over due for hygiene, or if the doctor has a new patient in their chair that will be finished soon. If so, go over the financials for the hygiene portion only and ask the patient if they would be interested in starting their interceptive periodontal therapy program now. The financial portion for the restorative portion of the treatment plan may be gone over as soon as the Hygienist finishes. However, the Financial Coordinator will want to utilize good communication skills by informing the Hygienist that the patient still needs to have the restorative portion of their finances gone over, and to please make sure the patient returns to see them before leaving the office. This process can be moved in the opposite direction if…. there is a last minute cancel or no show in the doctor’s schedule, and there is an existing patient in the Hygienist’s chair that has treatment pending or… the doctor just diagnosed treatment during a periodic exam. Go over the financials for the restorative portion and move the patient into the doctor’s chair.
When communicating with the new or existing patient that time is available it is recommended that you not use the word, “cancel” or “No show”. Remember you want to educate your patients from the first point of contact about office policy, and if you tell them you had a cancel or no show then you are teaching them that this behavior is accepted in your practice. A better approach would be to say: “Mr. Jones, We have an opening in our Hygienist’s schedule and we wanted to see if you would like to take advantage of this time to have your perio therapy started?”
Another place to check for patients to fill last minute cancellations is the reception room. Many times parents will bring their children with them or the children may have parents with them that are due for hygiene or even past due for hygiene and they are sitting out in the reception room.
What other resources are available to fill cancellations? You have patients who cancel and don’t reschedule…you have patients who fail appointments or the patient who say’s “You know things are really busy right now and I’m going to have to call you back.” Tracking patients who cancel existing appointments are kept in your computer under a tickler file, or unscheduled appointment report. Ideally, you should have no more than 0.5 openings per Hygienist per day in the appointment schedule. More than one opening per day on average is unacceptable.
Getting your patients to return for their periodic oral health examination is the most neglected system in dentistry. Devoting specific time to a recall system rarely occurs. Whose responsibility is the recall system? The time required to successfully operate this system can only be obtained by delegating the task to a person who is not involved in duties, which routinely contain interruptions as most front desk positions do. This very important system requires its own job description and title known as Patient Coordinator.
When consistent effort is applied in securing this “return business”, an increase in production and patient base will occur. Remember it is 5 times more expensive to obtain a new patient than it is to keep your current patients.
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