By Kevin Tighe
An engaged dental team can start to predict which patients will cancel or not show up for their dental appointments. No practice wants too many of these types of patients. It becomes vital for the scheduling coordinator to be able to identify these patients so that the dental team can confirm their appointments directly. The practice cannot just send a postcard or text message and assume these people will show up.
Here are who I’ve found to be the types of patients who cancel and no show:
1. Those who have previously broken an appointment—Feel free to dismiss these patients. Or you can put them on a short list after the third no show or cancellation, or put them on a short list after the second time if they do not apologize for their no shows.
2. Patients in their 20s—Older people are usually more reliable about keeping doctor appointments.
3. Patients who use Medicaid or any other government plan—Those who pay cash or have private insurance are more reliable.
4. If it has been quite a bit of time since a patient scheduled the appointment—Try to get patients in more quickly!
5. Those who have not been in the practice for some time, except if they have an emergency.
6. International patients—These patients probably don’t show due to a language barrier or different moral codes, as well as other cultural differences.
7. A parent making an appointment for their grown child, or a spouse making an appointment for a spouse.
8. New patients—A call from the dentist can greatly reduce new patient cancellations or no shows.
Following up on cancellations and no shows
It’s important for you to train the scheduling coordinator about how to properly call patients who have missed or broken an appointment. Done properly you can hopefully get these patients in as well as find out what may have caused them to miss their appointment. You can then work to remedy any internal problem that may have contributed to a patient not showing up.
The front desk staff member with the best communication skills should follow up this because you don’t want to make a situation worse by having a poor communicator make the calls. This applies only to those who have not already missed three appointments (or two if they were not sorry after the second one). These patients should be dismissed or put on a short call list only.
Steps for following up on missed appointments
1. The scheduling coordinator should review the patient’s chart before calling. This way he or she knows the last treatment the patient received or what treatment the patient needs, as well as what family members have been seen in your dental practice in the past.
2. Using this information when calling will show patients that an effort was made to learn about them and their family. This shows that the practice cares about them.
Here’s an example. Scheduling coordinator: “Hello Mr. Smith, this is Lisa from Dr. Jones’ office. How are you?” She should then engage the person in conversation, mention something about the person or his family, or talk about the treatment the person had done or that needs to be done.
Scheduling coordinator: “The doctor was concerned that you have not scheduled (or you missed your appointment) and asked that I call you.” Ask how the person is doing with regard to his or her previous treatment. Then let the patient talk. Ask if the person was upset with anyone at the office, or if something else occurred to discourage him or her from visiting the office.
Scheduling Coordinator: “The doctor considers your dental health very important and wants you to get your regular exam (or whatever is appropriate). We would like for you to come in and see us. When is the best time for you to schedule?”
The key to discovering what the real barriers are is to really listen to what patients have to say.
I do not recommend cancellation fees, but if you decide to go this route then waive the fee for at least the first offense. Make sure to have a clear policy with your staff on when the fee can be waived and who is authorized to do so.