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10 proven steps to reduce cancellations and no-shows in your dental practice

Aug. 3, 2022
Nothing can throw a dental practice off balance faster than cancellations and no-shows. Here are some tips to reduce the number of patients who do that to you.
Kevin Tighe, Cambridge Consulting

When it comes to cutting down on cancellations and no-shows, there are similar but different protocols for new patients, patients due for recare, patients past due for recare, patients scheduled for operative, and patients who broke their appointment for operative. Here are 10 tips that address all patients.

1. Talk to patients

Despite all the wonderful technology available to dental practices, the most vital step to keep no-shows and cancellations low is talking to patients while they're in the practice to ensure they’re educated on the negative effects on their oral and overall health if they do not move forward with their treatment or recare.

2. Assign confirmation to one team member for accountability

That team member should have excellent communication skills and have their ear "tuned" in to lack of commitment phrases from patients.

3. Find out whether patients prefer to be contacted by text, email, or phone

Texting is a preferred method, at least for my clients’ patients. Only use a postcard if a patient requests it. (Note: I know some dentists and consultants disagree on whether to use postcards. All I can tell you is what we are finding that works with our clients, especially for new practices.)

4. Keep the basic schedule for confirming appointments

Ideally, this is is 3-3-1: three weeks, three days, and one day, unless a patient tells you differently.

5. Know that certain types of patients must be confirmed directly

  • Those who've previously broken an appointment
  • Young patients; older people are often more reliable
  • Patients who use Medicaid or any other government plan
  • Those who have not been in the practice for some time
  • International patients, which is probably due to a language barrier
  • A parent or spouse making the appointment for a grown child or their spouse

Note: For chronic broken appointment patients (at least three broken appointments, or someone who is not sorry after the second broken appointment), dismiss them or only allow them to be on your short call list.

6. Have an active short call list

This enables you to plug any holes in your schedule. Learn more on this method in "For increased production, create a short-call list."

7. Remember when to make the reminder

For an operative appointment, remind the patient one day before unless the appointment is booked well in advance, in which case it's 3-3-1.

8. Welcome new patients directly

A call from the dentist to welcome new patients to the practice is a friendly gesture that will also serve to cut down on new-patient no-shows.

9. If a patient fails to show up, call them right away

If you don't reach the patient, let them know you’ll try back in a week. Repeat a week later if necessary. If there is still no response, put them on automatic reminders using their preferred form of communication.

10. Use judgment for follow-up

After a month or so of someone not responding, continue to make calls based on your knowledge of a patient without becoming obnoxious or seeming desperate. How many calls you make should be based on what you know about a patient. You should not be rote about how often you call, i.e., if you know the patient is out of the country for a few weeks, is ill, or whatever the case may be.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2016; updated August 2022