Are same-day broken appointments stressing you out? You leave the office at the end of the day with a beautiful, full schedule for the next day and arrive back at the office in the morning only to have the schedules fall apart at the last minute. Ugh! If this ever happens to you I know how frustrating that can be. Not to mention, it kills production.
In this article, you will find several ways to greatly reduce last-minute schedule changes. I am certain that if you follow each step, you will stress less, make more money, help more patients, and have more fun. Please print it out and share it with everyone on the team. We need everyone in the office following the same protocol/system for you to be successful. Consider reviewing this at your next huddle or team meeting.
Tips and Ideas to reduce last-minute cancellations and no shows:
Consistently Be Great! – Do everything to ensure that each and every patient has a great experience during their appointments. Give them something good to talk about and a reason to keep coming back!
STOP moving appts around! A sure-fire way to aggravate patients, cause them to disrespect your time and the schedule, or for them to think you don’t know what you’re doing is by moving their appointment times. Unless, of course, they have asked to be on your Priority List. Calling patients to come in early, come in late, or come in on a different day is annoying and I promise you it is hurting your schedule and production. I can’t emphasize this enough – Respect their time and they’ll respect yours.
Appointment Reminder Systems – Ensure that you have an effective interval set up to remind patients of their appointments and that your message is helping not hurting the practice. For example, Don’t say “Calling to confirm” – it should be “We’re looking forward to seeing you on ____ at ____. OR ____ is looking forward to seeing you…” When is the last time you reviewed your electronic appointment reminder messages and intervals and your appointment confirmation protocol?
Unconfirmed Appointments – If it is 1 day before the appointment and you have a patient or patients’ that haven’t responded to your appointment reminders, you must pick up the phone and call the patient(s). You shouldn’t be able to look at the day’s schedule during your morning huddle and see unconfirmed appts.
Cancels – Using the word cancel or cancellation sends a poor message to your patients. It tells them that cancellations happen and are expected. We don’t want that. You can say ”this doesn’t happen very often but if for some reason you need to change your reservation with ___, we ask that you please provide us with at least 48 hours notice.”
Stay on Time – See your patients at their appointment time. This means they should be seated in the treatment chair on or before their appt time. Avoid running behind schedule. (Tip: Make sure you are allowing enough time on the schedule for each procedure/appt type.)
Appointments ASAP – If a patient calls (especially a New Patient) to schedule an appointment and they can’t get in for 2 or more weeks you are at risk of that patient calling somewhere else to get an appointment sooner or other life’s distractions and priorities getting in their way moving them to cancel last-minute or no-show. If your schedules are so full that patients are having to wait to get in they might feel like you’re too busy for them or that their dental care needs are not important. If you do not have an immediate opening let the patient know that you’ll place them on your priority list and while it doesn’t happen very often if there is an unexpected change to the schedule and you can see them sooner they’ll be the first to know.
Doctors, if you’re struggling to reach your practice goals or that there is too much chaos in your practice– feel free to contact me for a complimentary, no-obligation 30-minute telephone consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if a coaching relationship is right for you.
New Patients– Don’t rely on electronic reminders for your new patients. Instead, call and let them know you’re looking forward to meeting them and briefly share with them what to expect during their first visit.
Bad Appointment History – If a patient has a history of not showing up or canceling last minute, please don’t schedule any future appointments for them. However, if you find there are some patients on the schedule with a bad history (more than 2 or more broken appts)…call them at least 2 days in advance of appt. “Hello, this is ____ from ____. I am calling regarding your appointment on ____ at _____. I need you to please return my call by____ at ____. If I don’t hear back from you by that time we will assume you’ve changed your mind and will cancel your reservation.” This will you give you time to fill that appointment time with a different patient.
Treatment Plans and Financial Arrangements – Every patient that has an appt. scheduled with the doctor for treatment must have a copy of their treatment plan AND a financial agreement before the appt. Ideally, each patient should receive a copy of the treatment plan and a financial agreement at the time of diagnosis. DON’T ASSUME that the patient is OK with their financial responsibility simply because you gave them a copy of their treatment plan and they didn’t question the cost. What often happens is they say OK and schedule and then will no-show or cancel at the last minute. OR they come in for the appt. not prepared to pay their portion.
Regarding their financial responsibility – put their co-payment amount in the appt notes so that you remember to remind them to bring it in w/them.
Many patients will not tell you they can’t afford the treatment. MAKE IT EASY FOR THEM TO SAY YES by HELPING THEM FIND A WAY TO WORK IT INTO THEIR BUDGET. The total investment is ____ and we can do it for as little as ___ per month using our partner Care Credit. Have them apply for CC while they are there in the office.
Hygiene Patients – Schedule their next 3, 4, 6-month appt when they are at the office. Preferably, the hygienist should always schedule the next appointment from the treatment room. Take a second to stress to the patient how important this appointment is and what you’ll be looking for at their next appt. (It’s not just a cleaning and there is a reason for the recommended appt interval.)
Scheduling Appointment – When scheduling appointments for your patients let them know that this time is being reserved exclusively for them. Also, consider having patients pay their co-pay or leave a deposit at the time of scheduling. Especially, if you’re reserving more than an hour on the doctor’s schedule.
VALUE – Walk-Out Statement – Consider itemizing the hygiene appt walk-out statement to include the no-charge services… ie: Oral Cancer Screening, Nutrition Counseling, Oral Hygiene Instructions, Etc. Be sure to ALWAYS give the full fee for that day even if they have “100 %” coverage with their insurance. They need to hear the actual dollar amount for each visit. Helps to put more value on the appt.
No-Shows / Late Arrivals – Always acknowledge your no-show/late patients with a call 3-5 minutes past their appt. time. If you get a voice mail – let the patient know you’re concerned because they missed their reservation. If the patient doesn’t reschedule or if they don’t return your call. Send them a kind letter reminding them they were missed and what your office appointment guidelines are for changing appts. The assistant or hygienist should be making these calls 3 – 5 minutes past the appt time. If they can’t make the call right away they are responsible for having someone from the front office make the call for them. Be sure to document the action/ response.
Telephone – The dreaded telephone calls for same-day cancellation attempts from your patients. They can destroy a perfect schedule in a matter of minutes. Stay in control of your schedules. Create a system for how to care and respond to same-day cancellation attempts. Cancellations are not OK. Work together as a team to come up with scripting that works for your office. Think of all the different scenarios and reasons patients call to cancel (cost, illness, work, no babysitter, schedule conflicts, etc.) and role-play the best responses. Your goal should be, if appropriate, to respectfully help the patient find a way to keep the appointment as scheduled without threatening or embarrassing them.
If you currently leave it up to the patient to call back and reschedule you are not only creating more work for yourself but you’re putting the office at risk of losing that patient due to inactivity. Reschedule/reappoint the patient while you have them on the phone.
Whatever you do and no matter how desperate you are to fill the schedule DO NOT REAPPOINT habitual offenders! You should never be able to look at the schedule and point out who will most likely cancel or no-show. I’m sure that’s never happened in your office, right? 😉
I would love the opportunity to work along with you and your team to help you set and exceed your practice goals. If you would like to schedule a no-obligation, complimentary consultation to learn how our coaching program works, please email me at email@example.com.
Sending you wishes for a full and productive schedule… one that doesn’t fall apart!
Friends, if you do not know what your office’s broken appointment and reappointment numbers and percentages look like, including how many of your active patients are unscheduled, and many other important key practice indicators; please take note of what those numbers look like and what systems you have in place to track these patients. You need to know where you’re at currently to know how to best care for your patients and what your potential for growth is. To help you get that data quickly, like within minutes – if your PMS is either Dentrix, Eaglesoft, or Open Dental you can request a complimentary, no-obligation practice data snapshot here: Game-Changing Awareness from Dental Intelligence – Within minutes we’ll identify your practice’s strengths and uncover hidden opportunities. I am happy to assist you with this at no charge.
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Yours for Greater Success,
Betty – Dental Coach