Few things cause the kind of chaos and uncertainty in a dental office like canceled appointments. Not only do they throw off the day’s schedule, they also create uncertainty regarding staffing, doctor availability, and a practice’s ability to meet its monthly financial goals. Of course, trying to develop successful strategies that work to decrease patient cancelations can also be a source of stress for many front office managers.
Developing the right strategy for improving appointment retention rates means asking the right questions regarding why patients cancel. To help give you an idea of where to start, here are a few questions your dental practice needs to answer.
Do You Need to Change Your Appointment Confirmation Process?
Calling or emailing a patient to confirm their appointment is too often viewed as “babysitting” by front office staff. Many scheduling managers also fear that by calling a patient to confirm an appointment, they’re actually creating an opportunity for the patient to cancel. Unfortunately, both of these ideas are defeatist and miss the bigger overall point.
For starters, a patient that cancels an appointment during a confirmation call was probably always going to cancel no matter what. At least this way, your front office staff can immediately start looking to fill this hole in your schedule, rather than trying to scramble to fill a hole with only 24 to 48 hours advanced notice.
Second, dentistry is a service industry. Reaching out to patients to confirm an appointment is an opportunity to for your front office staff to continue building a stronger relationship with your patient base. It shows your office is staying active and engaged in helping to protect and improve your patient’s oral health, while also providing a patient with the chance to immediately reschedule with a member of your staff in case something has come up that prevents them from making their appointment time.
If your office isn’t reaching out to patients to confirm appointments, you’re not lowering your cancelation rate, you’re simply missing out on a chance to strengthen your patient relationships.
Do You Need to Change Your Rescheduling Process?
The time available on your appointment calendar is incredibly valuable. Therefore, you should infuse appointment times with a sense of value that imparts to the patient its worth.
A troubling trend that many practices engage in too frequently is allowing patients to reschedule an appointment within the same week. If it’s so easy to move an appointment up or back by 24 to 48 hours in the week, what incentive does a patient have not to cancel? While it’s important to stay flexible to meet a patient’s needs, this type of rescheduling process should always be the exception rather than the rule.
There are some steps you can include that will allow for same week rescheduling, such as adding a rescheduling fee or requiring a credit card reservation, that will help lower cancelation rates while still accommodating your patients’ schedules. Finding the right one for your office could help to dramatically lower patients’ expectations for when and how they get an appointment.
Do You Need to Improve Your Dental Practice’s Scheduling Process?
While the standard for dental cleanings is once every six months, trying to pin patients down on when they might be available half-a-year in advance is unreliable at best from a scheduling perspective. Instead, it makes more sense that your front office staff works to set up an appointment anywhere from three to four months in advance.
Once you have an appointment on the calendar, it makes sense to send out reminders starting at three to four weeks. While you can mail a postcard, make a phone call, or send an email, it’s important that you understand the type of communication patients will best respond. If you use a patient communication system, you can start to have reminders sent out at different intervals beginning 30 days prior to the appointment.
If recent trends are any indication, texting is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways for dentists to contact their patients. Not only is a text unobtrusive when compared to a phone call, it’s also makes it incredibly easy for a patient to confirm their appointment with a simple response.
What Should You Do with Repeated Offenders?
Every dental office has a handful of patients that are repeat offenders when it comes to canceling appointments. While these may be men and women who’ve been coming to your office for years, what kind of value do they really represent to your practice if they cancel three out of every four appointment times they set?
The bottom line is that your dental practice is a business. While it’s always difficult for any business to turn customers away, these types of patients may actually be costing you more logistically and financially than what you bill them for in the end.
It’s important that patients understand that their appointment times are more than just an errand on the calendar. It represents time and money, and holds significant value to everyone you employ at your practice. If a patient can’t respect that when given multiple chances, it may be in the interest of everyone to simply move on.