Revenues Evaporating? Do This
It's dry out there. In some parts of the country, this summer looks to be serving up one of the worst droughts in decades. Water restrictions are being put into place and crops are cooking as the nation continues to bake under the summer sun. Many dental practices are feeling the effect of a drought of their own - this one being a lack of patients. Patients are cancelling, they don't show up, they are late, and tempers among the team are running hot as a sun-scorched summer day. The doctor is pacing. The hygienist is wringing her hands. The business staff are ready to wave down cars in the street to get bodies in the chairs.
Increased patient cancellations and no-shows is a trend that we see across the country. Not in every region - but in many - practices are experiencing difficulty keeping schedules full. Certainly, the economy is a factor, but before you hang your head in hopeless resignation that there is nothing you can do about it, read on. With appropriate systems, patient no-shows and cancellations can be dramatically reduced regardless of today's ever fluctuating economic whims.
First step, pay attention to what staff are saying to patients. This is critical because, as I have noted countless times, patients look to the clinical and business teams for cues. If there is the slightest indication that the appointment can be delayed or is not necessary or if the messages are mixed, patients will take that as their signal to promptly exit and get back to you when they feel like it.
Here's a common scenario in many practices: A well-intentioned Scheduling Coordinator is trying to schedule a recall visit for the patient who is due to return in six months. The patient has absolutely no idea what her schedule is going to be then and prefers to wait. The Scheduling Coordinator is trying to be helpful to both the patient and the practice and explains that if the patient doesn't book the appointment, she may not get one because the practice always books six months out for hygiene appointments.
“Let’s just get you on the schedule. If you can’t make it when the time comes, just call and we’ll reschedule it then,” says the Scheduling Coordinator. In effect, she is contradicting herself, and the patient is puzzled. First the patient must be scheduled because the appointments are filling up quickly, and it’s going to be practically catastrophic if the patient doesn’t schedule now. Then the Scheduling Coordinator indicates it’s really no problem to cancel if the patient discovers the time won’t work. Mixed messages defeat the purpose, and the purpose is to have patients in the chair.
If it is clear that a patient prefers not to book an appointment six months in advance, do not pre-schedule. Rather, tell the patient that s/he will receive a notification two-to-four weeks in advance of the date s/he is due for his/her professional cleaning/periodontal maintenance appointment. Then direct the patient to call the office and schedule the appointment when s/he receives the notice.
Dental teams have long operated under the illusion that six month scheduling would guarantee a full schedule. Certainly, this approach works for some patients who have an established history of keeping their appointments, but to insist on six-month scheduling for patients who have clearly indicated that this doesn't fit their busy, unpredictable lifestyles only exacerbates the problem of cancellations and no-shows.
Knowing what to say and what not to say to patients is only part of the solution to reducing this vexing practice problem. Next, evaluate the various methods of patient/practice communication, specifically those related to appointment confirmations. It is essential that practices contact patients using the communication tools patients prefer, including text messaging, email, postal service, cell phone, business phone, home phone, and in some cases a combination of those. While text messaging and email appointment confirmation have grown in popularity, it's critical that business staff ensure the patient receives the message sent and responds.
Simply sending a text message or an email to a patient reminding them of the appointment is NOT a confirmation. The patient must respond to the message acknowledging receipt and indicating if they plan to keep the appointment. If the patient does not respond to the text and/or email message, the practice must have an established protocol for following-up by phone to make contact with the patient.
Next week, killing time or filling time?
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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