Director's Message: Keep your schedule filled

March 24, 2015
A question I am often asked is, “What is the ideal percentage of unfilled hygiene hours per month?”

A question I am often asked is, “What is the ideal percentage of unfilled hygiene hours per month?”

Answer: 5% or less.

However, many dental offices track unfilled hours as high as 25% per month. This high percentage suggests that patients do not perceive value for their hygiene appointments, and/or do not see keeping their appointments as important, and/or the practice does not have an effective recare or follow-up system.

The step-by-step process below outlines what can be done to reactivate hygiene or restorative patients. Also noted are potential failure paths if needed information is not available.

  1. Run a computer-generated list of unscheduled treatment or pull “Delayed Treatment” slips, patient monitors, or patients’ charts. Also, check for insurance pre-determinations to follow-up on.
  2. Keep a Patient Reactivation log (digital or written) with the date, the patient’s name, the type of contact you made (telephone or letter), follow-up activity to be done and when, plus pertinent notes.
  3. Always review the patient’s chart before contacting. Look for areas that the doctor or hygienist are concerned about. Look for the patient’s “goals/concerns.” (Failure path is if no personalized goals, concerns, or reason for the patient to return are noted.)
  4. Check the schedule to make sure that the patient has not already made an appointment that you are not aware of, either with the doctor or hygienist.
  5. Pull up the patient’s account history and check if there is any current or delinquent balance due.
  6. Choose whether to send an email, text, snail mail letter, or call first. All methods are acceptable. Customize this step in the process. (If you have opening in the very near future, consider calling.)
  7. When calling, a possible guide to the conversation is: “Hi, Mrs. Jones, this is Sue from Dr. Wonderful’s office. How are you? Kristine, RDH (or Dr. Wonderful) was reviewing your chart and is concerned because we have not seen you for your hygiene treatment in x months/years. I know that last time you were here we took care of Y, and we would certainly want to protect that investment. Let’s see if we can get you scheduled as soon as possible.”
  8. If you can’t get the patient to schedule, say this, “It’s our duty to inform you that by delaying treatment, you could be risking more complex and costly treatment in the future. When may I call you back?” If the patient says, “Let me call you when I’m ready”, say, “Because we’re concerned about you, would it be okay if I called you again in a couple of weeks?”
  9. Document what the patient says in his/her chart. If you have set the expectation that you’ll be calling back, be sure to put that call on your “to do” list. (Failure path occurs when credibility is lost when follow-up falls short of the expectation that was set during the phone call.)
  10. If you have left three messages with no return call from the patient or spoken with the patient three times without actually scheduling them, it’s time to send a letter/email. Document the patient’s chart with the date and the nature of your call. Document the chart with the date that you sent the letter/email and made a copy of the letter/email for the patient’s chart.
  11. Be sure to follow-up on everything and anything that comes up while you are communicating with the patient
  12. If the patient is not returning to the practice, make a chart note and place the chart on the doctor’s/office manager’s desk to review. Always ask for feedback if the patient has switched dentists. “To give us the opportunity to improve our care and service, we’d very much appreciate some feedback from you.”
  13. Keep an “Exit Log” with the date, patient’s name and the reason for not returning. Review this log once a month at a staff meeting to see if there is a trend of customer service issues. There may be an opportunity to improve your care and service.

Kristine A. Hodsdon RDH, MSEC
Director, RDH eVillage

Kristine A. Hodsdon RDH, MSEC, Founder of Dental Influencers, LLC, supports doctors and teams to create efficient and stress-less business systems so they can get back to do more of what they LOVE…serving clients and treating patients. See if Kristine’s coaching or training programs can help, go to and email her at [email protected].