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Eliminate Those Last Minute Dental Hygiene Appointment Cancellations!

By: Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS

September 18, 2014

REACTUVATE RETAUN EDUCATE ACQUIREAs a practice management consultant, when we first begin to work with our client’s one of the metrics that we review with our client is the number of hygiene patients who are overdue for a hygiene appointment.

Many of our clients inquire about our services because they want to add more profits to their hygiene department. Dentists know there is possibly more money sitting in their practice but they don’t know where to begin to find untapped profits in their dental practice.

The Hygiene Recare System is one of the areas of expertise at Dental Practice Solutions.

10 Tips to Eliminate Last Minute Dental Hygiene Appointment Cancellations:

1. Always attempt to pre-schedule 100% of all hygiene appointments. Research tells us that you will lose over 60% of your patients if you wait for them to schedule their next hygiene appointment.

2. When patients are in the office talk prevention and their specific reasons for any areas of concern. Provide value to every hygiene appointment and why it is imperative to return for preventive care.
3. Talk about the important of optimal oral health and its relationship to their total health.
3. Talk financial benefits of a healthy mouth.

4. Never wait until a patient is overdue to contact them for a next hygiene appointment.

5. Use a text messaging service to contact patients regarding overdue appointments.

6. If you discover (and most office do discover this when they look at their hygiene department metrics) that you have dozens, hundreds of overdue hygiene patients, think about using a service such as                                                                                            SolutionReach that will allow you to email a newsletter to your patients who are overdue for a hygiene appointment.

7. When contacting overdue hygiene patients look at their chart notes and speak to each patient individually and speak about any specific concerns noted in their chart. These important facts may                                                                                                        include bleeding on probing, previous non-surgical periodontal therapy (Scaling and root planing, etc.), restorative concerns, etc.

8. Use customer satisfaction surveys to understand how your office is performing. When you do use a service such as SolutionReach these surveys can be customized with your office brand and then                                                                                                  sent directly to various sites such as Google+, YELP, Facebook, TWITTER, etc. This is a cost-effective way to gain search engine optimization and New Patients searching the internet for a dentist in                                                                                              your community is more likely to discover your office and your website.

9. After two attempts to call, email or text an overdue hygiene patient, you want to send a letter. I suggest that you have a perforated portion where they patient can tear off and respond to why they may                                                                                           not be responding to your messages about scheduling a hygiene appointment. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make it easy for patients to respond.

10. Ask your patients how they would like you to confirm their next hygiene appointment. Most patients in today’s fast-paced world would much rather have a text message sent to confirm an                                                                                                                appointment. Ask patients which method they prefer: Post-card only, email, text message, phone call or no reminder at all.

You will always have patients who need to change or cancel a hygiene appointment. Life happens. At Dental Practice Solutions we recommend that our clients have their answer machine say At some point during the voice message include this: “…This answer machine does not accept cancellations. If you need to cancel your appointment please call during normal office hours or call doctors cell phone…”

You probably already know which patients are most likely to cancel last minute. You can name off a list of patients who are chronic abusers of your cancellation policy. These are the patients who call on Friday when the office is closed and leave a message on your answer machine to cancel their Monday morning appointment. This most likely means that you will have an open hole in your schedule when you get to the office on Monday morning.

All patients must understand your cancellation policy and if you charge for last minute cancellations. When patients understand your office expectations and they understand they can’t cancel without at least 48 hours notice, you will discover very few last minute cancellations occur.

Another strategy for chronic offenders that you do not wish to dismiss from the practice is to have the patient prepay a sum of money or provide a credit card number in order to hold the time in your appointment schedule. If the patient does cancel with 48 hours of their scheduled appointment, they will lose the deposit paid to reserve their appointment.

The best recipe for eliminating last minute hygiene appointment cancellations is to hold your patients responsible for their appointments and set a consequence for disappointment.  Creating and following through with a broken appointment fee can create harm to your dental practice and may cause the patient to angrily leave the practice. It is possible that they may bad-mouth the doctor and the entire team if you confront patients but then you must ask “Do you want to keep a patient in your practice, who does not respect your time?” Remember that you are running a business and to be a successful business, people need to have respect for your business and value your time.

Every patient cancellation should be dealt with individually and in an appropriate manner because there are legitimate reasons people miss dental appointments and some will need to call last minute to cancel or reschedule.

In summary

  • Every team member needs to be pro-active by identifying chronic offenders of your cancellation policy.
  • Do not allow patients to leave messages of cancellation on the office answering machine at any time. Patients must call during normal business hours or call doctors cell phone. Some doctors even have a special cell # they use for these type of calls. It’s well worth a few extra dollars each month for this additional phone #. You will also discover not too many patients wish to call doctor on their private cell # to cancel an appointment. You’ll be surprised to discover not too many patients really needed to cancel bad enough to call doctor and let them personally know about their excuse for not coming to the office. I have heard excuses such as “I can’t get another appointment for a haircut unless I cancel my dental hygiene appointment.” TRUE STORY!
  •  The clinical team needs to stress the importance of preventive care and the need for routine dental  hygiene appointments. Add value to the dental hygiene appointment by using words like “Preventive Care”, “Periodontal Maintenance” or “Hygiene Appointment” and nix the word “Cleaning.”
  • Attempt to preschedule 100% of all hygiene patient next appointments.
  • Understand how each patient prefers to be contacted to confirm their appointments. You will probably discover that many of them want a text message sent! Remember, most patients now communicate via text message. This is how we communicate in today’s world.  May seem sad but this is very true about today’s population.

If you would like script templates please email our office and we are happy to send scripts which you can customize and make your own words. We recommend our clients practice what to say to patients who prefer not to preschedule a next appointment.

We can also send you a form that outlines what your office voice message should say to eliminate those last minute cancellations. Just email our office at: dentalpracticesolutions@gmail.com

 ABOUT DEBBIE SEIDEL-BITTKE, RDH, BS

ME not too high jpegDebbie Seidel-Bittke is President of Dental Practice Solutions and her team serves dental practices throughout the world. She has worked in the trenches for over 25 years, is a former assistant professor at the University of Southern California and wrote the accreditation for a Dental Hygiene Program in Portland, Oregon. Debbie started Dental Practice Solutions in 2000 and her passion is to help other dental professionals share the important information about oral health and how this can help us all live a longer and healthier life. Through her dental hygiene department programs she supports dental office globally, to tap into profits without working harder or more hours. Debbie has a unique dental hygiene recare system you can use to customize your messages to overdue hygiene patients. The eBook gives example scripts and how to time your messages to patients who have been lost from your dental practice. You can reach Debbie to receive a complimentary call to DISCOVER your dental practices’ untapped potential. Call 503-970-1122 or schedule a 30 minute Discovery Session here: SCHEDULE A NO CHARGE DISCOVERY SESSION NOW