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

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.

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When it comes to cutting down on cancellations and no-shows, there are similar but different protocols for 1) new patients, 2) patients due for recare, 3) patients past due for recare, 4) patients scheduled for operative, and 5) 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 are 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 so that the practice has accountability. That team member should have excellent communication skills and have his or her 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 quickly becoming the preferred method, at least for my clients’ patients. Do not offer a postcard. 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, which 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. Examples:
a) Those who have previously broken an appointment.
b) Patients in their 20s. Older people are often more reliable.
c) Patients who use Medicaid or any other government plan (those who pay cash or have private insurance are more reliable).
d) Those who have not been in the practice for some time.
e) International patients, which is probably due to a language barrier or different moral codes, etc.
f) 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 to help plug any holes in your schedule.

7. Remember that the reminder for an operative appointment is one day before unless the appointment is booked well in advance, in which case it's 3-3-1.

8. For new patients, a call from the dentist to welcome them to the practice will cut down on new patient no-shows.

9. If a patient fails to show up, call the person right away. If you do not reach the patient, let the person 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. 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.

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Kevin TigheKevin Tighe, Cambridge Dental Consultants CEO, got bitten hard by the business and marketing bug during long summer days working at his dad's Madison Avenue ad agency. After joining Cambridge as a seminarist in the mid 1990s, Kevin went on to become Cambridge’s senior consultant and eventually CEO. Cambridge Dental Consultants is a full-service dental practice management company offering customized dental office manuals. A complimentary dental practice analysis is available to dental practice owners or their spouses.

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