As I review my clients’ practice goals for 2014, one goal that continues to be mentioned is reducing broken appointments and no-shows in the practice. In order to achieve the goal of reducing broken appointments and no-shows, it is important to have a strategy. Below are six strategies that we find helpful in achieving this goal:

1. Create Value for the Next Visit

Since many appointments are broken in the hygiene department, dental teams need to make sure that while we have the patient in the chair today, we educate them on the value of returning at their recommended interval. Keep your attention focused on the patient. Keep the patient’s attention focused on the appointment and what you are providing, not the TV and what is showing on the HGTV channel.

2. Confirming Appointments

If you are using auto reminders, make sure your patient’s phone number and email address are up to date. For hygiene appointments, also make sure the appropriate recall intervals are attached. If the patient does not respond to the auto reminder, contact them at least one day in advance by phone. New patient appointments should not be confirmed by auto reminders. Instead, contact the new patient directly to verbally confirm the patient. This is also a great opportunity for the practice to make sure the patient has all the necessary information to expedite their check-in process.

3. Scheduling Appointments

The appointment is the responsibility of the patient and you can help the patient accept that responsibility by the way you schedule in the beginning. Stay in control of the appointment book by giving two options (for example: “Do you prefer mornings or afternoons?”) and then let the patient know that specific times are reserved for this type of appointment.

4. Answering/Recording Device

In your message, let patients know that this answering device does not accept changes of schedule and that they must contact the practice during regular business hours to change an appointment. This is a behavior change for many of our patients who would much prefer to be passive and leave messages vs. talking to a team member on the phone to cancel.

5. Rescheduling Appointments

If a person does call to make a change of schedule, obviously, your goal is to reschedule them while you have them on the phone. If you say, “Oh, that is all right. Call us when you think you can make it.” or if you allow a person to call at their convenience, then you have committed “appointment suicide.”

6. No-Shows

If the patient is five minutes late to the appointment, give them a call. Preferably the team member who was supposed to see them that day (such as the hygienist) should make the call. If you’re unable to reach the patient, put them on a call list (each software has a different name for this), then try one more time during the day to reach the patient. Express your concern over the missed appointment. If you are then still unable to make contact with the patient, send them a letter expressing your concern over the missed appointment and stress your commitment to their health and well-being.

Make sure that whatever you do, your communication is clear. When patients feel that you have their best interest in mind, most will respond positively to your request.

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