According to the recent Dental Economics article, “Minimize your Summer No-Shows and Cancellations,” dental patients are often inclined to cancel their summer dental appointments. However, there are some tactics your practice can use that increase the possibility of your patients showing up for their appointments.
Lois Banta, dental practice management consultant, writes that because summer is a time for families to get outside and enjoy fun in the sun together, failed appointments during this time are more likely.
“When patients fail appointments, you’re temporarily unemployed,” Banta writes. “I’ve found that one unfilled $200 hygiene appointment over an average of 210 days of production loses $42,000 for a practice. Operative appointments at an average of $500 an hour over 210 days are another $105,000 in lost production. So the costs of no-shows and cancellations to a practice are huge.”
Minimizing no-shows and cancellations in summer starts when patients are diagnosed and appointments are made, and by turning cancellation calls into confirmation calls, and Banta writes that all of these things require exceptional verbal skills. How your team schedules and confirms appointments can impact whether or not a patient cancels.
“I’ve found that patients need to hear things three times and feel motivated in order to comply with your desire for them to make appointments, whether it’s for operative or continuing care,” she writes.
Banta suggests the scheduling process should start with the hygienist.
“When the hygienist is finished with a patient and ready to make the next appointment, it’s important to know whether that patient is a good candidate to preschedule,” she writes. “Some patients travel a lot, work irregular shifts, or have unpredictable schedules.”
If the patient is a good pre-schedule candidate, ask him or her if they would like to come in at the day of the week as the appointment they’re currently at. Don’t ask if the person wants to schedule or what time of day is preferred. Let patients know what you have available and expect them to comply.
“If a patient is not a good preschedule candidate, say, ‘I see that you’ve got a really busy life and you’ve had to change your appointments a few times. What we’ve found works best is to send you a notice a couple of weeks before you’re due so you can call to schedule your appointment. How does that sound?’ ” she writes.
Banta goes on to write that failed appointments usually happen during confirmation communications.
“When you contact patients to remind them of their appointments or to confirm their appointments, you can inadvertently prompt them to fail because it opens the door for them to cancel,” she writes. “Instead of reminding or confirming, let patients know you are merely informing them and assume they’re going to show. “Mrs. Smith, we’re calling to let you know you’re on the doctor’s schedule tomorrow at nine o’clock. We’re looking forward to seeing you.’ “
If the patient has previous failed appointments and you want to make personal contact to ensure the person will show up, ask the person to call you back because you have important information to share about the upcoming appointment. That information could be about traffic, weather, or current promotions, anything that creates curiosity, Banta writes.
In order to save the appointment, every effort should be made to uncover the barrier between them and making the appointment.
“During summer, patients often prioritize other activities, such as vacations, graduations, and reunions, above their dental appointments,” she writes. “To learn the barrier, ask, ‘Is there anything we can do to help you keep this appointment?’ If they say, ‘I’m going on vacation in a few weeks,” ask, “Why would your vacation in a few weeks cause you to cancel your appointment tomorrow?’ Often, when there is an out-of-pocket investment, money could be the real issue. That’s when you can let them know they can have both the trip and the appointment by introducing flexible financial arrangements.”
Banta writes that she’s a big fan of taking partial payments before the appointments if the appointment is a big procedure, as this cuts down the chance of cancellation because the patient is already invested.
She also says that if a patients wants to cancel, you might not want to make it so easy for them to reschedule.
“Ask patients if they want to reschedule and offer two appointment options four to six weeks out,” she writes. Many times they’ll say, ‘What? You can’t get me in for four to six weeks?’ When you respond, ‘I know. We’re so busy. But if I get a change in the schedule and an earlier appointment becomes available, I’ll give you a call.’
Banta says some patients may reprioritize their schedules and keep the appointment if this tactic is used. If they don’t, she suggests not offering an immediate open appointment.
“Place them on your priority list, which is not a list of all patients who need to come in for hygiene or incomplete care, but is only for people who have told you that if you get a change in your schedule, they will come in,” she writes. “Here’s the caveat: if you call a patient twice and they say no two times, take them off the list.”
Banta says she understands that no-shows and cancellations cannot be eliminated entirely, but she’s found that practices can get them down to 5 percent of their schedule time.
“As a last note, when open time does occur, use it wisely,” she writes. “One way is to make sure the entire team has healthy and beautiful smiles so you can show off the doctor’s clinical skills to patients. That’s great word-of-mouth marketing.”