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Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS is known as a top dental consultant by Dentistry Today.

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Minimize Short-Notice Cancellations and No-Shows: Important Facts You Need to Know

By: Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS

May 28, 2013

Shows open holes in schedule

What can you say about your schedule today? We are about half way through another year so if you have something you are not satisfied with let’s do something about this challenge. I promise you are not alone!

In a recent survey we took, the most common complaint from dental offices was about cancellations and no-shows. Most reported 2-3 openings in the hygiene schedule daily.

First let’s take a look through a critical eye and dig into this very common situation. Why do you think your patients cancel or no-show for their appointments? Why do hygiene schedules have so many openings? And what can you do about it now?

Have you assessed the reasons why your patients are cancelling short-notice? What are they not showing for their appointment? When you have a clear

Understanding of your patients’ behavior and when you know that you are communicating the benefits or your care, now you can develop an effective plan to reduce cancellations.

At a team meeting this month, review how many short-notice cancellations and no-shows occurred in the past 30 days. Write down the top three reasons patients call to cancel. Do you understand why they neglected to show for their appointment? These answers will shed some light on the problem you have at hand and now you can create working solutions.

Perhaps you have thought about charging or, maybe, you currently charge a cancellation/ no-show fee. I don’t recommend this. First of all, you can’t legally charge for a service that was not rendered. This will also not change the patients’ negative behavior.

There will be a lot of cancellations in the dental hygiene department when patients believe they are coming in for “just a cleaning” and they do not understand how important oral health is to their overall body wellness.

Set a goal of no more than a 5% cancellation rate.

Make sure that your patients understand the urgency of preventive care vs. the urgency of emergency after hour calls to resolve a tooth problem!

Your Appointment Change Policy

The most effective policy to stop the last minute cancellations and no-shows is to ask for 72 hours notice should your patient need to change the day and time of an appointment. I recommend that if patients need to change their dental appointment that they give you 72 hours notice. The reason I suggest this is to stop anyone from scrambling to fill a hole in your schedule last minute and if you don’t work on Fridays this means a patient can’t cancel after Thursday.

When you are out of the office the phone message needs to alert patients that your answering service/machine does not accept appointment changes and they are to call back during your business hours. State your business hours on the phone message.

If you are setting a new policy in place make sure that your patients read and sign acknowledgment of this at their dental visit to your office. You may want to have this posted in treatment rooms, on postcards sent to patients confirming their hygiene appointment and definitely post in the reception area. Include this in your financial policy especially what you charge for missed or last minute cancellations. Do attempt to charge for this fee if patients are not following your policy. I am not going to say that in a court of law you can legally collect on this but I believe patients need to have respect for your time and your business policies.

Always document no-shows and last minute cancellations as well as the reason they have cancelled or no-showed.

One proven method to stop last minute cancellations and no-shows is to use Forever White™. This is a patient incentive program utilizing whitening for your patients. Forever White™ is the same premium whitening product that many offices use today however, Dental Practice Solutions can offer this to dental offices at wholesale prices. There are no hidden monthly fees to order. If you are whitening patient’s teeth for the first time, the take-home trays and whitening gel cost to your office is less than $8.00. Typically patients pay a lot of money to whiten their teeth whether it is take home trays and/or laser whitening. If you can purchase tooth bleaching products for very little cost you can pass this savings over to your patients. When a patient comes in without short-notice cancellation or without failing to show for their appointment, twice a year, at their dental hygiene appointment, patients qualify for a free syringe to whiten their teeth. The cost-benefit ratio of giving a patient two syringes of gel, (1 syringe two times a year) vs. the cost of an open hole in the schedule is a WIN!

Most people work off that mentality of WIIFM?! (What’s in it for me?!)

If a patient understands they can get free touch-ups for whitening how likely are they to miss their dental appointment? Not likely. Isn’t that correct?

I have been in offices and heard the patients calling to cancel because they have a hair appointment. This means the patient never really did value their appointment.

How can you build value for optimal overall health and give patients something they really want? It takes effective and consistent communication about the important  benefits of optimal oral health that will create urgency with patients over time.

It is all in your hands. What will you do differently today?