A hot topic in our industry is how to get patients to show up to their appointments. Many dentists and staff think what is said during the confirmation call makes the difference in decreasing their cancellations and no shows. I am asked all the time for scripts for this and I am completely against scripts. I do not believe scripts work.
The problem with a script is people know when you are reading from a script and it doesn’t sound genuine. If the patient doesn’t answer using one of the multiple-choice options given, it leaves the employee with no response because they are following a script – not their own intuition or thoughts.
I do think you should cover certain points during confirmation calls, so you are able to do everything you can to get the patient to show up for their appointment.
It is important the employee understands their intention with the call. When making confirmation calls, the intention is not to get the calls done as quickly as possible or get them finished and get them out of the way for the day. The intention of the confirmation call is to ensure the patient arrives or find out sooner rather than later if they do not intend to come at all. To do that, the person doing the confirmation call needs to understand their importance and be fully trained on how to do them. They need to know acceptable reasons to cancel, what to look for in the patient’s cancellation history, and the office cancellation policy.
Follow these basic guidelines before ever making a confirmation call.
- Call well enough in advance to ensure the patient has adequate time to move the appointment if they have not confirmed already. I suggest at least 48 hours prior to their appointment
- Be confident in your tone of voice and not distracted with other things going on around or in front of you. The focus needs to be on that call and the intention is to ensure the patient intends on coming to the appointment.
- It is important to confirm the day and time correctly with the patient and if multiple appointments are scheduled on the same day, that is noted in the call. I have seen too many distracted employees accidentally say the wrong day or time – a lack of attention to detail can create a hole in the schedule.
- Tell the patient you are calling to confirm or remind them of the day and time of their appointment and then shhhhhh – listen to the patient’s response. Do they seem confident they are coming, are they paying attention to you and not seem otherwise distracted, do they give you any concern with their response that they may not make it? If so, question a little more. As much as we don’t want them to cancel or move their appointment, it is better to know in advance rather than wait for last minute.
- If necessary, call multiple times and use multiple technologies to confirm the appointment, such as text messages or emails. Many people don’t answer their phone but they will text back. Some people need multiple reminders to get them to show up. It is important to know your patients and do what is necessary to get them to arrive for their appointment.
It is important to point out that how the confirmation call is made will not fix your cancellation and no-show problem. Learning to do them well is a necessity, so you know you have done everything possible to get that patient to arrive. However, it is what happens when that patient responds that is most important.
Your employees need to change the bad habits we have allowed your patients to start in the dental office, which is making it OK to cancel or no show. If you have continually allowed your patients to cancel last minute and then schedule them again, then have them cancel, then schedule them again, and so on, you have set up a culture that makes cancellations OK. If you want to build a schedule of patients that show up, it is not about what we say in the confirmation call but more importantly what we say the next time they try to cancel. Make your policy firm and work to re-train your patients so they know they can’t keep doing this or you will not allow them to reschedule again or at least only be able to book same day appointments.