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.
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 first 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.