Scripting to use when your dental patients call to cancel their hygiene appointments

Scripts can help the dental staff in a variety of situations, including handling those who call in to cancel their "cleaning appointment." Here's what the front office can say to encourage patients to keep their appointments.

Apr 18th, 2017
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Scripts can help the dental staff in a variety of situations, including handling those who call in to cancel their "cleaning appointment." Here's what the front office can say to encourage patients to keep their appointments.

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting & Office Manager Digest. Subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter here.

I am often asked, “What should we say when patients call to cancel their hygiene appointment?” Here I’ll share some scripting examples for handling calls from patients who want to cancel their same-day hygiene appointments. Please note: this isn’t scripting for periodontal appointment cancellations. Different scripting is used for those types of appointments.

Scenario 1
Patient:
I’m calling to cancel my appointment for today at 10. It’s just for a cleaning.
Admin:
Nooooo!
What do you do? It’s 9 o’clock. How are you supposed to fill the time slot?

Scenario 2
Patient:
I’m calling to cancel my appointment for today at 4. It’s just for a cleaning.
Admin:
Yessssss!
What do you do? Celebrate, of course! Now you get to go home early.

I’m kidding! Dental practices hate cancellations (even the “just a cleaning” ones) any time of day because they kill profitability. So, what do you say to patients when they call to cancel? How do you save the appointments? Remember that you can’t save them all. There are some unavoidable, legitimate reasons why some patients must cancel their appointment.

For those that can be avoided, try this

Patient: I’m calling to cancel my appointment for today at 10. It’s just for a cleaning.
Admin:
(with genuine concern) “Oh no! I hope everything is alright. Jenny was really looking forward to seeing you today. Is there any way at all you could reconsider and make your reserved appointment time?” OR

“Oh no, Jenny will be so disappointed. She reserved this time just for you. Is there any way at all you can keep it?” OR

“Oh no! Thank you for calling. I know Jenny will be concerned. Is there anything we can do to help you be here today?”

If you have a broken appointment policy

Admin:
“Oh no! I’d hate for you to have to pay the broken appointment fee. Is there any way you can keep your reserved appointment time with Jenny?”
If the patient is sorry and truly can’t make the appointment and this is the first time he or she has canceled, say:
Admin
: “I know that Jenny was looking forward to seeing you. I’m sorry that you weren’t able to provide us with 48-hour-notice due to (their reason). We’ll go ahead and waive the broken appointment fee this time. Let’s get you rescheduled.”

For patients calling to cancel due to work

Patient: I can’t take time off of work today, so I can’t make my cleaning.
Admin:
“My job is important to me too. We really hate for you not to make your appointment. Is there any way you could have someone cover for you for that time, or would it help if we wrote a note to your supervisor?”

If the answer is still no:
Admin:
“We obviously made an appointment for you that isn’t convenient. Since your appointments are important I want to make sure we never do that again. Is there a time we can schedule that you know will be convenient?”

Document your conversations with patients and whether you waived the fee for a cancelled appointment, and make a note that a patient is aware tht next time he or she will be charged for a missed appointment.

If the patient refuses to reschedule the appointment

Admin: “That’s fine, but if I don’t hear back from you, I will call you on ______. How does that sound?” (Be sure to follow through on that promise.)

For patients that habitually cancel, I urge you to charge them the broken appointment fee and do not reschedule their appointment.

Admin: “Mr. Smith, I can see that you have a really busy schedule, and that makes it difficult for you to commit to an appointment time. I thought I was a busy person! What I recommend is that we place you on our ‘same day’ call list. If we have an unexpected change in our schedule we’ll give you a call. How does that sound?”

Remember to document your conversation, and follow up accordingly. 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, no babysitter, scheduling conflicts, etc.) and role-play the best responses. Your goal should be to respectfully help patients find ways to keep their appointments without threatening or embarrassing them.

If you’ve created a cancellation monster, it will take some time to retrain your team and patients. How does a dental practice “train” patients to think that it’s OK to cancel at the last minute?

  • By not creating true value for the appointment through patient education.
  • By constantly rescheduling patient appointments because of a change to the provider’s schedule.
  • By not respecting patients’ time by running behind and not giving the very best experience from start to finish.
  • By telling patients that it’s no problem when they call to cancel.
  • By having poor and inconsistent appointment reminder systems and protocols.
  • By failing to acknowledge no-shows with a telephone call five minutes after someone doesn’t show for their scheduled appointment time, or with a follow-up letter, text, or email.

Sadly, I’ve heard many offices tell their patients that it’s no problem when the patients call to cancel. The office doesn’t even attempt to reschedule. They just say OK and hang up. I’m not joking. This really happens.

Ultimately, preventing cancellations starts with creating value for appointments before they’re scheduled. It’s never “just a cleaning” that patients are trying to cancel. Create a strong hygiene continuing care protocol for your team and follow it consistently.

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Betty Hayden is the founder of Hayden Consulting. Having over 25 years of experience in the dental field, she started a blog to share that experience with dental offices everywhere by providing free dental marketing and practice management ideas. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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