A dental practice needs patients! For patients to keep returning it is obvious that the dental profession must make the experience as pleasing as possible. A list of well motivated patients that keep appointments is the making of the practice. It is possible with a few changes to the management of the practice and patients to hold on to these patients and manage the levels of cancellation at short notice and failure to attend.
Dentists are often surprised to realise that their staff are not aware that when no one is in the chair the practice is not generating an income. There is no day to day incentive for the staff to keep the practice busy as they get paid whether they are seeing patients or not. Drawing their attention to this fact is often enough to increase motivation. It is not uncommon for a practice principle to realise that the reason they are not booked up on a Friday afternoon is that the receptionist has things planned for Friday night and doesn’t want to run late ! Good rapport and communication between the staff and dentist is essential.
Patients are human and will forget the occasional appointment- we have all done it. However there are some very easy things to do to facilitate their attendance. If a course of treatment is required then booking all the appointments in a block at the same time, on the same day of the week, makes them easier to remember.
Check up appointments should be kept to around the same time of year, most people link things to do with significant dates for example many remember when their MOT is due for their car by associating it with a birthday.
When contacting the patient to remind them of their appointment using the correct language can make a difference. For example letting them rebook or cancel too easily at this late stage means not only that the next day’s list is demolished but also the patient learns that it is acceptable to do this and does not value your time.
Simply monitoring and measuring the level of lack of attendance within the practice will improve the situation as all the team become aware of its importance. A good receptionist should be polite but firm.
When the patient makes the appointment it is helpful to give them control. Make them active not passive in the treatment making process. This has been shown to reduce cancellations, as does asking them to sign a consent to treatment form. In cases of repeat cancellations it is sensible to take payment for treatment beforehand.
With today’s downturn in the economy affecting dental practices and their turnovers the effective management of the patients and staff can make a crucial difference to turnover and unlike most other changes costs nothing to do!