Hot tips for hot weather: How to make sure your patients don't miss appointments

July 17, 2012

Parents and patients don’t intend to be less committed to their appointments during the “lazy days of summer” but let’s face it…if anyone makes them a better offer than going to the dentist, off they go, which means your scheduling coordinator works at top speed to keep the changes in the schedule filled. Not to mention the stress involved with the confirmed patient “no-shows.”

Parents and patients don’t intend to be less committed to their appointments during the “lazy days of summer” but let’s face it…if anyone makes them a better offer than going to the dentist, off they go, which means your scheduling coordinator works at top speed to keep the changes in the schedule filled. Not to mention the stress involved with the confirmed patient “no-shows.”

Want to avoid this in your practice? Here are some of the main reasons patients break appointments and how you and your team members can make them think twice before they call you to cancel:

1. A lack of communication from the doctor and entire dental team to patients regarding the importance of their next visit while they are sitting in the dental chair. If you have ever wondered why some practices have 3-4 times as many broken appointments as other practices, listen to the amount (or lack of) patient education regarding the next appointment in your own practice.

If the office communication in your practice is 75% social and only 25% dental education, no wonder you have more than your share of open time, which is totally non-productive. Reversing the conversations to 75% dental education and 25% social chitchat is key. All it takes is a 30 second eye to eye, heart to heart talk about the importance of keeping the next appointment, and VIOLA….a reduction in more than HALF the amount of wasted time. While socializing with patients may be fun…it should never be more than 25% of the conversation and at that, focused on the patient, not the dental team member.
 
2. Non-motivated team members is another serious reason for open chair time. Their attitude is: I’m going to make the same amount of money today no matter how many people show up, so why work so hard?

If you don’t already have an incentive bonus plan in place, I highly recommend one. Or think about having a daily “bonus kitty” and drop a $10, $20 or $50 bill into the locked box or office safe for each day with zero to X number of open slots on the schedule. Each open slot costs team members their “fun-money,” which is divided at the end of the month and pro-rated to part time team members. With an average of $30 per day times 16 days, this could be close to $500 per month!

3. Weak verbal skills and untrained scheduling coordinators determine why a large percentage of changed or failed appointments take place in a practice. There are three tones of voice team members can use when patients call to try and change or cancel their appointment: 1. happy 2. neutral 3. friendly disappointment.

If employees like downtime, they will sound happy when an opening occurs. Because patients like to make the person taking the call happy, they will continue being a source of failed appointments because they know the team member actually seemed elated with the call.

If the patients receive a neutral or “vanilla” response such as “Oh, no problem at all Mrs. Webster, let’s see when I can get little Samantha back in, How about this coming Thursday at the same time?” Again, if it is easy to change or cancel appointments because the caller feels it’s OK and no problem at all, look out…your practice will again have more than your share of broken and failed appointments. I have heard from some scheduling coordinators that they spend a third of each day restructuring each day that falls apart!!

The only way to control wasted chair time, especially in the summer months, is to always sound friendly yet firm when someone calls to ruin your schedule. “Oh Mrs. Webster, I’m sure the trip to the lake that Samantha has been invited to participate in is very important, but so is her appointment with us. I have reserved the doctor’s entire late morning just for her bandings. As you know, it would be impossible for me to fill this amount of the doctor’s time on short notice. Is there any way we can work around Samantha’s invitation so they may leave around noon instead of 10 a.m.?

If and when your scheduling coordinator masters being friendly yet disappointed when patients try to cancel or postpone their appointments, patients and parents begin to realize the inconvenience of this, especially the last minute changes. REMEMBER: An appointment will NEVER become more important to the patient than it appears to be to you.

A good “test” is to go across the parking lot with a cell phone while covering the mouthpiece with a handkerchief to disguise your voice. Call the office and pretend to cancel the most productive appointment for today or tomorrow and see just how your office handles it.

You may also list this on the back of your appointment cards: A broken appointment is a loss to three people: 1. The patient who missed the valuable time. 2. The patient who could have used the valuable time. 3. The dentist who was fully staffed and prepared for the appointment time.

Summer “play time” does not have to ruin your production. Be pro-active…play it cool by encouraging each member of the team to improve his or her verbal communication skills. And remember it has to be congruent and everyone has to be committed to that goal. With verbal skills communication, “you are only as strong as your weakest link.”

Linda Miles, CSP, CMC, is the Founder of Linda L. Miles and Associates (Now Miles Global), The Speaking Consulting Network and www.AskLindaMiles.com. She is a Spokesperson for DCC (Dental Consultant Connection), Certified Speaking Professional and Certified Management Consultant. You can reach her at 800-922-0882 or at lindamiles@cox.net.