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The Pain of Broken Appointments Ariel Charytan

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Three Key Solutions to Ease the Pain of Broken Appointments

These days most people—including your patients—are busier than ever with the technology-enabled 24-hour workday, and schedules packed with family and other commitments. This dynamic only further exacerbates one of the biggest challenges dentists have always had: patients making last minute cancellations or missing appointments. What patients may not realize is that broken and missed appointments represent one of the highest costs that dental practices suffer.

Many dentists have found that improving patient communication with customized, professional and, when appropriate, automated messages can help solve this problem by increasing show rates and repeat appointments. Beyond that, incorporating your colors, logo and office images into this communication will reinforce your brand with your patients. The reality is that there will always be forgetful patients and unavoidable cancellations, but these three simple patient communication tips can help reduce no-shows, improve office efficiencies and increase overall patient satisfaction and retention.

Automate Appointment Confirmation

Whether you like the personal touch of reaching out to every patient individually, or appreciate the peace-of-mind of knowing that your patients have the appointment marked on their calendar, all dentists should consider implementing an automated appointment confirmation and reminder system.

First and foremost, you need to find a solution that integrates with your practice management system (PMS). This will ensure that all confirmations are accurate and up-to-date in your PMS, providing a clear audit trail of when and how you’ve contacted your patients. In turn, this will free up your office staff to spend their time on other activities instead of constantly calling people to remind them to show up for their appointments.

Automating communication will also improve your patients’ experience. Many patients now prefer text messages or email for schedule-related communication and will appreciate getting reminders this way instead of receiving a call, though you should always respect your patients’ preferences. As your office staff time is freed up, it also means that they can pay more attention to the patients who are already in the practice.

Every practice knows its patients best, and will develop a timeline that makes the most sense for its office and fits its patients’ preferences. In my experience, this automated confirmation schedule works well as a starting point, and requires very little support from the office staff:
  • Day the appointment is scheduled: Send save the date (attach an Outlook, iCalendar or Google calendar invite).
  • Two to three weeks before appointment: Send reminder for appointments made months in advance that are now coming up.
  • Four days before appointment: Request appointment confirmation (this can be done via text, email or automated phone call, based on patient’s preference and consent).
  • Three days before appointment: If patient doesn’t confirm, resend appointment confirmation.
  • Two days before appointment: If patient still doesn’t confirm, have office staff call.
  • Day of appointment: For patients that prefer email or text message communication, send last minute reminder - even if they have already confirmed. This acts as an alarm clock and helps make sure patients show up for their appointment.


Customize Communication

Tailoring your communication to fit your patient’s lifestyle, schedule and preferences will help ensure that your message effectively reaches them. It may sound simple, but I recommend asking your patients how they would like to receive communications from your office. A parent on the go might prefer a text message appointment reminder, while a young professional may find it easier to communicate over email. This shows that you care about your patients while also improving the chance that they will pay attention to the information you’re sharing with them.

When it comes to the timing and frequency of your messages, keep your patient in mind. For example, if a parent has four family members coming in to the practice on the same day, you only need to send one reminder. This simple customization shows patients that you understand their needs, and will help make sure that they don’t tune out your messages.

Encourage Repeat Appointments

Now that you’ve hopefully solved the no-show issue, you should also consider the best way to approach repeat appointments. For patients that don’t schedule return appointments, recall and reactivation communication strategies can help get them to come back, which is beneficial for both their health and your practice.

The fi rst step is developing a proactive recall process. Most dentists wait until after a patient is overdue for a recall appointment to start communicating with them. I recommend reaching out to clients about four weeks before they are due for an appointment so that they never go past due. Similar to the appointment confirmation process, you should consider automation, establish a timeline for outreach and base the communication on the patient’s preference.

For patients that don’t schedule appointments through the recall process and haven’t been in touch with the office in 18 months, you should implement a reactivation campaign to get them back in for treatment. Since emails, texts and phone calls haven’t worked through the recall process, sending a physical letter to this patient can be the most effective way to reach them. In my experience, pairing reactivation letters with follow-up calls can be a very effective way to bring patients back to your practice.

Though it can take time to develop the timeline and messages that work best for your practice, once you’ve implemented these basic patient communication strategies, I’m confident that you’ll see the benefits across your practice.



Ariel Charytan is a VP, Lighthouse Product, Yodle. Prior to joining Yodle, Ariel founded Oyster.com, a Bain Capital and Scripps funded venture, in 2008 and Epana Networks a Sienna Ventures funded venture, in 2000. Ariel studied Psychology at Yeshiva University.


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