Catch the Number One Profit Thief in the Act
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Would you knowingly allow someone to steal $40,000 from you? The logical response is, well, of course not. Okay, so explain why you’re allowing no-show and last minute cancellations to take at least that from your practice every year.
Broken appointments are the bane of virtually every practice, and one of the most expensive profit pinchers. Admittedly, you may not be able to completely eliminate broken appointments and no shows, but you can take steps that will go a long way in reducing the impact of this income slayer. The easiest and most efficient means is to confirm all appointments. It is also the most cost-effective method of ensuring that patients are in the chair when they are supposed to be. Here’s how:
First, make sure everyone is on the same page. Establish guidelines for broken appointments. Once you define the practice’s expectations, be sure to communicate them clearly and regularly to both new and existing patients.
Next, designate and train the Scheduling Coordinator to handle confirmation calls. This should be viewed as an essential personal phone call from the practice, not a routine chore that some poor employee is stuck with. The importance of dental care is the focus of this phone call. Emphasis is on the value the practice places in the patient, as well as the value of the appointment to the patient.
Pay attention to your choice of words. Terms such as “routine,” “regular,” even “cleaning,” can minimize the patient’s perception of the need and importance of the appointment. In addition, be careful not to “invite” cancellations. For example, “Mrs. Jones, this is Mary from Dr. Wheeler’s office. I just was checking to see if you planned to keep your appointment tomorrow.” That approach gives patients a clear opportunity to back out at the last minute. Instead, use the confirmation call to emphasize the significance of this appointment and that the doctor is expecting the patient at the designated time.
Make personal contact with the patient 48 hours in advance of the appointment and resist the temptation to leave a message. If a message is left, the appointment cannot be considered confirmed until the practice makes contact personally with the patient. To avoid telephone tag, request a daytime phone number and/or cell phone number from patients. In addition, schedule time for the coordinator to contact patients after hours at home for those who are difficult to reach during the day.
When making appointments, state the day, date, time, and length of the appointment. For example, “Mrs. Smith, your 45-minute appointment is on April 28 at 9:50 a.m. If you are unable to keep this appointment, please call us at least 48 hours in advance to allow another patient the opportunity to see the doctor at that time.”
Be prepared to take steps to fill gaps in the schedule when they occur. Ask patients if they would consider changing their appointment if one becomes available sooner. Keep a list of those patients willing to move their appointments to fill unexpected voids in the schedule. Additionally, keep a list of patients who cancel, don’t show, or don’t reschedule appointments and follow-up with those patients. Contact “no shows” within 10 minutes of their appointment time. Indicate concern for their absence. “Mr. Smith this is Jane from Dr. Carol’s office. We were expecting you for a 3 p.m. appointment today and were concerned when we had not heard from you. Is everything okay?”
But don’t let the last minute cancellers dictate your schedule. After two “no shows” consider the patient unreliable. Tell the patient you will contact them when an opening is available, and they can determine if that time will be convenient.
Don’t let “no-show” patients and last minute cancellations rob your practice profits. Implement a few key steps to ensure that your number one line of income – the patients – are in the chair and paying for your quality dentistry.
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