A critically important challenge for a dental practice is banishing broken appointments.
There is nothing more insidious than a patient failing to show up. When you combine the time and energy spent preparing for the appointment with the inability to recover the lost revenue from the appointment, you begin to understand why Larry Guzzardo, All-Star’s Head Instructor, has such a strong reaction to broken appointments. For Larry, a broken appointment is like the patient reaching into your wallet and taking cash. In fact, if you look at an average dental practice, broken appointments can run in the tens of thousands a month in lost revenue.
Watch Alex Nottingham, JD MBA, and All-Star’s Head Instructor Larry Guzzardo talk about banishing broken appointmnts.
Banish Broken Appointments
So what has to be done to banish broken appointments?
First, we need to explain what constitutes a broken appointment or changed appointment. A broken appointment is any time a patient doesn’t give the office appropriate notice that they can’t honor an appointment time. A changed appointment is when a patient does give the office appropriate notice but reschedules immediately. A changed appointment is not as impactful as a broken appointment, but it still can cause headaches for the staff.
Overcoming Broken Appointments
The cause of broken and changed appointments is pretty simple. It’s simple in that a patient who fails to honor an appointment has just not been educated as to the value of the appointment. When a patient doesn’t understand the how the schedule works, and what it takes to be ready for their visit, it is easy for them to change their mind. Where airlines and beauty salons get away with strict cancellation policies, historically, the dental practice bends over backwards for poorly behaved patients. There is a fear that if you enforce some boundaries with patients, they will leave forever. But that typically isn’t the case. Patients just don’t understand how important their appointment is to the practice. We can change that!
Getting The Patient to Show Up!
The process for ensuring that a patient shows up is reasonably straightforward. It is dependent on how the team member on the phone prepares the patient for their appointment.
It’s not rocket science, but there is a recipe for successfully building value for the appointment in the mind of the patient. It begins with communicating to the patient a rough idea of how the schedule works, and goes along with some specific verbiage: “For you to get the best results from your treatment, the Doctor has set aside specific time just for you…” You are communicating the idea that the appointment is just for the patient. This helps the patient understand that the practice is preparing specifically for their visit, reinforcing that the patient is valued and welcome.
Another tip is to ask for a commitment from the patient that they will keep their appointment. This take advantage of an innate desire to live up to promises, so simply saying to the patient, “We will be working hard to prepare for your appointment. May I ask that you commit to keeping your appointment?” is a powerful step in ensuring that they do show up and banishing broken appointments.
Working with Changed Appointments
Changed appointments are not as damaging to the practice as a broken appointment, but they are still an ever-present drain on the schedule.
The key to working with patients who wish to change their appointment is to create a sense that keeping the original appointment is much better than changing it.
One way to do this is to NOT re-appoint the patient casually. You can say, “Oh, we are so sorry to hear you want to change your appointment. Let me check the schedule for the next available time…” After a moment, return to the call and inform the patient that the schedule is full. “I’m sorry to say that the Doctor’s schedule is very full for the next few weeks. The first appointment I have is on ________ [make this far out in time, such as the next month].” Often the patient is unwilling to wait and will keep the original appointment.
It also helps to “guilt” the patient just a little bit. “Oh we were looking forward to seeing you at your appointment. In fact, we have been hard at work preparing for you. Is there any way for you to keep this appointment time?” Establishing that the patient was a focus for the team, and that work had been done to prepare increases the value of the appointment for the patient and often is enough for them to keep their time.
Teach, Don’t Punish!
One of the most important things about working with patients who want to change their appointment is to teach them the value of the appointment, but don’t punish them for “bad behavior.”
It’s ok to communicate disappointment that they won’t be keeping their appointment, but don’t take it too far. If the patient feels like they are valued and important to the practice, their behavior may change for the better. If they feel belittled or there is a lack of respect or compassion, they will just move on to the next practice.
Once, Twice, Three Times?
Now, this is not to say that there are some patients that just aren’t good for the practice. The patient that chronically breaks appointments, or repeatedly changes an appointment, can be a serious drain on the finances and energies of the practice. You’ll have to be the judge, but if a patient breaks an appointment more than once, perhaps it is time to suggest that they try a different dentist – banish broken appointments!
A Deep Dive into the Schedule
Dive into the schedule and learn to banish broken appointments. All-Star’s Scheduling Advantage course covers the entire process for building value for an appointment and how to work with a patient to ensure they honor their appointment. And not only do we address this silent killer, but we also explore every aspect of managing an efficient schedule designed to maximize productivity and reduce the Doctor’s downtime.
We discuss the costs of broken and changed appointments, and how to overcome them, in our no-cost online training event, “Dental Practice Excellence: 3 Steps to an All-Star Practice.” Sign up for a day and time that works best for your schedule, and then show up and put what you learn into action right away. Or if you have questions about training, please give us a call at (866) 280-1343.
Listen to our podcast on Banishing Broken Appointments: