12 tips to get patients to keep their preventive appointments

Most patients don’t keep up with their preventive visits, which is why it’s crucial that your recall system is rock solid.Patients may know they need their preventive dental appointments, but life and its circumstances often get in the way. So, how can you get your patients to keep their recall appointments?

Patients may know they need their preventive dental appointments, but life and its circumstances often get in the way. So, how can you get your patients to keep their recall appointments?

“We believe that proper communication is the backbone for recalling any patient,” says Dr. Ameerzeb Pirzada, CEO and a consultant dentist at Z Dental Studio in Islamabad, Pakistan. “Our studies have shown that a pleasant personality and a genuine desire to make everyone happy is one way to bring patients back for a recall.”

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Instead of asking patients closed-ended questions such as “Would you like to schedule your next appointment?” Z Dental Studio uses affirmative language like “Your next appointment will be in August, and we can schedule you and send you a reminder card.” Most patients don’t keep up with their preventive visits, which is why it’s crucial that your recall system is rock solid. There are a variety of ways to go about it.  

Here are 12 strategies to get patients to keep their preventive appointments:

1. Schedule patients while they’re in the office.

“We find this works really well,” says Victoria Veytman, DDS, of Cosmetic Dental Studios in New York City. Dr. Veytman’s office also sends newsletters about dental health and the importance of preventive visits that hopefully work to remind patients how important this appointment is, not to take it lightly and to keep their scheduled visits.

2. Make patient appointments six months in advance.

“Our patients appreciate making the next six-month recare appointment with our hygienist while they are here,” says M.H. Peters, Jr., DDS, of Peters Dental Associates in Houston, Texas. “For the few patients that are not able to schedule that far ahead due to work/school schedules, we personally call to remind them one month prior to their due date.”

3. Use reminder calls, texts and automated messages.

When the appointment time gets closer, the staff at Peters Dental Associates sends patients reminder texts, emails and/or automated phone messages. “About 95 percent confirm through the automated system,” Dr. Peters explains. But for those who don’t, calls and texts come in handy to keep patients abreast of their appointments.

4. Send postcards.

“Our usual protocol is sending out postcards three to four weeks prior to the recall. Not only is this a reminder, but it gives patients time to reschedule if necessary,” Dr. Pirzada says. Postcards have been a popular preventive dental recall technique for decades. What’s changed is the way they can be implemented, including when they should be sent for maximum effectiveness, what they should look like and the information they should contain to remind patients what they’re coming in for, how long it might take and who they are going to see.

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5. Make follow-up calls.

Z Dental Studios utilizes hygienists to make follow-up calls before recall visits. Hygienists research each patient and have the patient’s chart in front of them to know what kind of treatment he or she has had or need so any questions or concerns can be addressed. “Again, our hygienists maintain perfect communication because we believe that good correspondence is the backbone for a successful revisit,” Dr. Pirzada says.

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6. Try email.

Although there may be more effective ways to reach patients, including texts and calls, don’t overlook the ease of emailing patients about their recall appointments. There are always a portion of patients who appreciate a quick email to both receive reminders and send back a confirmation in a quick manner.

7. Use self-addressed stamped cards.

Many practices have the patient address their own reminder postcard when checking out. “Follow up with the postcard at the first of the appointed month,” says Benjamin Kacos, DDS, who practices in Shreveport, Louisiana. “We try very hard to maintain a robust hygiene department in my practice.” Dr. Kacos says he thinks the self-addressed card is an excellent way to get the patient scheduled for his or her next preventive appointment.

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8. Call the patient two days prior.

Many practices call patients one or two days prior to their appointment with a reminder. Dr. Kacos says his practice also sends a text message reminder two hours prior to the appointment. In the age of technology, this extra step can feel like a boost in helping busy patients make their dental health a priority.

9. Don’t give the option to cancel via technology.

While it might seem exacting, Dr. Kacos’ staff doesn’t have a cancellation option via text or email. Since patients must call to cancel, they may reserve doing so for all but the most important reasons. Otherwise, it’s very easy to cancel an appointment via technology.

10. Use an automated system when patients are overdue.

An automated text or email program that reminds patients if they are overdue for their cleaning is a great way to let them know they need to call and schedule an appointment.

11. Offer warranties.

“I offer a warranty on all my crowns. The warranty is voided if the patient does not have their teeth cleaned two times each year and receive fluoride varnish at their appointments,” Dr. Kacos says. This incentive is enough to remind patients how important their preventive visit is for their oral health.

12. Give staff an incentive to get patients in for their recalls.

“We have a game that all of our staff plays and earns points on a daily basis,” Dr. Kacos says. He explains that the scoreboard is in the break room, and each member of their team has the ability to earn two points per day-at the end of the month the winner gets $100. The game bolsters the practice’s hygiene department/patient recalls. Hygienists earn points by explaining the benefits of fluoride to each patient. Assistants earn points if they remember to go over the crown warranty with each applicable patient and if they convey the importance of regular cleanings. The front office earns points for asking each patient if they have their next cleaning scheduled. 

Whichever methods or combination of methods your practice uses to keep patients returning for their preventive appointments, it’s always a good habit to raise awareness that preventive visits are crucial for keeping the patient’s oral health and overall health in check.