Curb Cancellations Up Front
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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The recall system is the heart and soul of a practice. It’s also the main artery for doctor production; 60–85% of dentistry is generated from the oral hygiene treatment room from patients of record. That dentistry, however, is neither diagnosed nor performed if those patients aren’t in the chair.
Although many dental teams feel strongly that the only way to schedule hygiene is to pre-appoint six months, this can lead to significant revenue losses in last-minute cancellations and no-shows. In addition to clearly communicating the importance of keeping appointments chairside, take a few more practical steps to reduce the number of no-shows and last-minute cancellations.
- When making appointments, state the day, date, time and length of the appointment. For example: “Mrs. Smith, your one-hour appointment is on Wednesday, August 20 at 9:50 AM. 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.”
Maintain a list of those patients interested in coming in sooner for their appointments.
- Follow up with every patient who cancels, doesn’t show or doesn’t reschedule.
Contact no-shows within 10 minutes of their appointment times.
- Show concern for a patient’s absence. “Mr. Ely, this is Ellen from Dr. Dobbin’s office. We were expecting you for a 3:00 PM appointment today and were concerned when you didn’t arrive. Is everything okay?”
- After two no-shows, a patient should be tagged as unreliable. Politely tell the patient you will contact him when an opening is available. For example, “Mr. Ely, we are obviously having trouble coordinating a time that is convenient for your schedule and ours. I don’t have any appointments available at this time. However, I do have all of your appointment information and I will contact you when there is an opening to check if you would be available.”
If patients are canceling frequently because of daytime work and family responsibilities, consider offering some appointments in the evening and/or on weekends.
Your computer system should retain appointment information so that staff is able to scan the available patient database to fill unexpected openings. With a couple of keystrokes and a phone call or two, the scheduling coordinator should be able to find a patient that would fit into an open slot and fill the available units.
In addition to quickly accessing patient data, the computer should be used to track every failed or cancelled appointment as well as any unscheduled treatment. This ensures that the person responsible for the schedule is not trying to keep track of all those details either in her head or on some scrap piece of paper that is likely to be misplaced.
When pre-appointing hygiene patients, it is advisable to inform them that they will receive a courtesy reminder notice to ensure that they will keep their scheduled appointment. The recall notice should be professionally printed and sent in an envelope. It should stress the importance of the visit, such as, “We have reserved Monday, August 30 exclusively for you.” If possible, note something specific to the care of the patient, such as, “The doctor is interested in checking that upper right tooth.”
In addition, include information about other practice services and/or a recent news article about oral health. Be sure to eliminate any messages that invite and/or give patients permission to cancel or fail.
Finally, a designated member of the staff should place confirmation calls to patients at least two days in advance. A message left on a machine or with someone other than the patient cannot be considered an appointment confirmation unless the practice knows the patient well, and the patient has a consistent pattern of keeping appointments.
Unfortunately, there is no way to totally eliminate broken appointments and no-shows. However, they can be reduced. Take steps to curb them, and watch your stress go down and your practice efficiency, productivity and profitability go up.
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