5 ways to reduce failed appointments

Appointment failures, either by cancelling or not showing, result in the loss of manhours and production for practices. We hear this in just about every office we walk into — “Today’s schedule was beautiful when we left yesterday, but then the phone started ringing today…” 

There is no single best way to handle appointment failures. We’ve all been told that we can help eliminate these failures by impressing upon patients the importance of keeping their appointments. We can do this by using correct and professional verbiage, and while that is true, what if that alone is not working? What else can you do? 

Here are some steps to consider to help cut down on broken appointments in your schedule.

1)  Repeat – Repeat – Repeat — When a patient makes an appointment with your office, whether in person or on the phone, make a point of stating the date and then repeating the date and time with the patient two more times. It doesn’t need to sound robotic, but casual. “OK, Mrs. Jones, we will see you on ----- at ----,” at the conclusion of the conversation.   

2) Get enough information — It’s a given that you get new patients’ names and phone numbers, but consider asking for an alternate number as well as an email. In the event the patient doesn’t have or want to give out the email, get a physical address. This way if the number is not a working number, you have alternate means of contacting the patient.

3) Send the appointment information to the patient — For new patients, as soon as you hang up the phone from scheduling their appointment, send an email with the appointment time, the office address and phone number, and even directions to your website so they can fill out their paperwork. In the absence of an email, send a letter with an appointment card. Sometimes patients actually forget where the appointment was made.
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4)  One-month-out hygiene postcard — Emails or paper postcards can be sent out as a reminder to patients of their upcoming appointments. Many companies offer this service so it is automatic, and it doesn’t require the office staff to remember to do this task.

5) One-week-out hygiene value calls — This is a phone call to the patient that requires actual contact with the patient. If a voicemail is received, the office leaves the following message — “Dr. Molar wanted me to contact you prior to your appointment next week. Could you please return my call at 210-555-1212?  Thank you.” 

> When you get the patient on the phone, begin with a little relationship building conversation, such as: How is your spring? Do you love this mild winter?Do you have any vacation plans this summer?

> Ask if they received your postcard last week. If not, confirm the email and address on file.

> You continue with the fact that the doctor wanted you to contact the patient and ask a few questions before the appointment next week.

1. Anything bothering you in your mouth? Document what they say.
2. Do you have enough pre-med? (If applicable) Or does the office need to call some in for the patient?
3. Any changes in your medical history since your last visit? Any surgeries? Hospitalizations?
4. Confirm current medications.
5. Ask whatever the doctor needs to know prior to the appointment next week.
6. Thank the patient very much for thier time, and that you’ll see them on this date at that time

> Document – Document – Document! Anything that the patient tells you at this time needs to be documented in the patient’s chart.

It is important to pre-appoint hygiene appointments in order to maintain proper oral health. The use of correct and professional verbiage when scheduling appointments helps patients understand the importance of keeping their recall appointment. By taking a few extra steps to contact your patients prior to their appointment, you help them remember their appointment, and you have a chance to emphasize the importance of keeping that appointment. This value call allows you ample time to fill the hygiene appointment if the patient must reschedule.

Denise Ciardello and Janice Janssen are cofounders of Global Team Solutions, a practice management consulting firm that brings the clinical and administrative teams together through customized practice development and coaching. Their unique hands-on management style assists dental offices to create a profitable, efficient, and growing practice. They are the authors of the highly acclaimed book “OMG! Office Manager’s Guide®.” You may contact them at info@GTSGurus.com.

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