The Secrets for Reducing No-Shows and Cancellations Every Dental Professional Needs to Know

Scheduling is one of those aspects of dentistry that can be considered ‘make or break’. You either do a good job scheduling appointments (and getting patients to keep them) and your business prospers or you absolutely suck at scheduling and your practice begins to decline (along with your revenue). Even if you’re great at scheduling, but you’re constantly faced with patients who don’t show up or patients who show up late or cancel, it’s clear something must be done.


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The fact is, you will never stop no-shows and cancellations from happening. It’s just part of the game you need to get used to, same as when you had to learn real quick that not every patient carries insurance.  Even during the best of times, broken appointments are not uncommon. In fact, surveys have shown that broken appointments account for 10% of all dentistry treatments. This lack of productivity can quickly add up, with some practices facing losses of $40K and above just due to broken appointments alone.

This makes it important for a dental office to have a plan for reducing no-shows and cancellations from occurring in the first place. Here are six secrets you can start enacting right now to improve productivity, increase the success of your practice and ease loads of stress these broken appointments typically cause.

Six Secrets for Making Patient Appointments Hard to Miss

In order to encourage your patients to show up for every appointment, you must make it difficult for those patients to even consider skipping your dental session to begin with. This starts with proper communication.

1. Communication and Verbal Skills
Whether it’s an initial phone call, a thorough exam or the placing of a dental implant, the dentist and staff should maintain a positive attitude and a friendly demeanor when interacting with the patient. Make the patient feel like a friend or better - family. Make notes in patient files that indicate goals they’re reaching for and other personal details. These can then be commented on later to improve familiarity and trust.

When it comes time to discuss the patient’s first or follow-up appointment, push the benefits of the appointment, as well as the possible risks involved for not showing up.

For example, “John, we have you scheduled for March 13, which is when Dr. Smith will perform that tooth extraction. Once that tooth is out, you’ll have no more pain, especially when eating, and we’ll be able to schedule the dental implant appointment. Now remember, if you don’t show up for the tooth extraction, we won’t be able to get you in for at least six months. So you have to show up for that appointment if you want the pain to go away and to have your new smile sooner.”

Notice how the benefits and risks are repeated for clarity, yet they are implemented seamlessly into the phone conversation.

2. Confirm Appointments
If a patient is not going to show, you should know about it very early on. To help with this, considering confirming appointments throughout the morning, say starting at 9AM. It’s best to have a positive demeanor while doing it. If you’re experiencing an increase in broken appointments, consider confirming each appointment two days in advance.

3. Offer Same Day Dentistry
If you’re not already, consider offering same day appointments for those people who find it inconvenient to come back for follow-up treatment. This will take some moving around so that you can fit additional procedures into your daily schedule, but it can help to eliminate no-shows and cancellations in many cases.

4. No Tolerance Policy
Some doctor’s offices state in their new patient paperwork that they simply will not tolerate appointment cancellations, late appointments or no-shows. One practice barred patients from appointments for six months for a single broken appointment. although allowances were made for emergency treatments and walk-ins when time permitted. You don’t have to go to that extreme, but you can try to penalize patients as a last resort.

5. Broken Appointment Fee
Another last resort is to charge a fee, such as $25, for each broken appointment. Some doctor’s offices require 24-48 hours notice or the $25 will be charged. While adding fees to the patient’s bill might deter a no-show or cancellation, it doesn’t fill the lost time or productivity.

6. Fill the Time with Emergency and Same Day Dental Patients
Reducing no-shows and cancellations is all about using your time wisely, and being able to adjust when necessary. If you experience a no-show, consider offering another patient a same-day dentistry appointment so that you can fill the time and make up the revenue.

If at all possible, in the face of a no-show or a late or cancelled appointment, try to get the person on the phone. Ask if there is anything you or anyone at the practice can do to help the patient make their appointment that day (or whichever date you’re confirming). Again, stress the benefits of keeping the appointment and the risks of not showing up, and ensure that the person knows how much time the doctor has allotted for the treatment in question.

Put the above list into place if you desperately need to get your no-shows and cancellations under control. With a system in place and the proper training to handle these broken appointments as they occur (or before they happen), you’ll be well on your way to a more productive practice. You’ll also reduce plenty of stress, which is always good for business.

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