How to Get More Patients in the Chair
Summer can be a difficult time of year for dentists. Patients are busy taking vacations, driving their children from activity to activity, and simply enjoying the warm summer sun. Dental appointments are typically the last thing on their mind – even if they’ve already scheduled one with your practice.
No matter what time of year it is, cancellations and no-shows can really wreak havoc on your day. Scrambling to find patients who can take last-minute openings can be stressful, and the more of those openings you don’t fill, the further away you get from reaching your production goals. That of course hurts practice revenues as well as team morale.
Yes, it’s frustrating when patients don’t show up. But there are ways you can significantly reduce broken appointments and get more patients in the chair. Here’s my advice.
Pay Attention to What Your Team Members Say to Patients
Here’s an example of a common scenario that leads to broken appointments. Your Scheduling Coordinator wants to schedule a recall visit for Karen, a patient due to return in six months. Karen tells your Scheduling Coordinator that she’d rather wait because she has a busy job and three kids, and absolutely no idea what her schedule will be like six months from now. The Scheduling Coordinator, in an effort to help both the patient and the practice, tells her she should book today because if she doesn’t, she might not be able to get in at all. The practice always books six months out for hygiene appointments, and the schedule fills up fast.
Now here comes the confusing part. The Scheduling Coordinator then tells the patient that if for some reason she can’t make the appointment, she can call and reschedule then. Doesn’t make much sense does it? First the patient is told she better schedule today or risk not get an appointment, then is assured that if she needs to reschedule at the last minute it shouldn’t be a problem. Sorry, but this is a problem. You’re basically telling the patient it’s OK to send your schedule out of whack. And if she schedules that appointment before she leaves, that’s probably exactly what she’ll do.
So how should your Scheduling Coordinator handle this situation? Don’t book the patient. Tell patients who prefer not to schedule six months out that they’ll receive a notice in the mail two to four weeks before they’re due for a cleaning. Once they receive the notice, they can call the office to schedule. This way patients will have a much better idea of what their schedule will be, making them much less likely to cancel.
I know most dental practices have scheduled six-months out for years, but now might be the time to consider changing this outdated practice – especially when patients indicate that scheduling this far in advance doesn’t fit their busy lives. If you’re not ready to drop it all together, consider implementing a hybrid system and only pre-appoint reliable patients you’re fairly confident will show up. This will help reduce broken appointments and the stress that comes with them.
Look at Patient Communication
When patients schedule an appointment, ask them how they’d like to be contacted to confirm that appointment. If a patient says he prefers you call him at his office number and also text his cell phone, then do that. Regardless of how you send the communication, remember that an appointment isn’t confirmed until you get a response. Sending an unanswered text or email isn’t enough. I recommend following up with patients who don’t respond to text or email appointment reminders with a phone call.
When patients don’t show up, not only does it cause chaos in your practice, it also costs you money – and I’m talking about thousands of dollars in lost revenue every year. Taking these steps to reduce broken appointments will help make your days less stressful and your practice more profitable.
Next week: Patients not showing up? Don’t kill time, take action
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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