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The one-day rule for overdue patients

April 18, 2022
Interested in adding $1 million in revenue per dentist at your practice? Schedule overdue patients. Dr. Roger P. Levin explains how.

Author's note: Levin Group has reviewed and prioritized hundreds of strategies to increase practice production. Each month, we highlight a powerful idea ranked in order of priority.

It has been well-established and fits into one of the best opportunities to increase practice production that patients who are overdue (i.e., not scheduled for their next appointment) can cost the practice more than $1 million (likely much more) over the career of each dentist. Or, from a more positive perspective—having an excellent system to monitor and schedule overdue patients will add $1 million or more over the career of each dentist.

Here is the challenge faced by most practices. When things feel busy, the team typically forgets about overdue patients until they notice a lot of open chair time or a production slowdown. By not keeping all patients scheduled for their next appointment, some level of production is permanently lost, as some of those patients will never come back to the practice. They disappeared and nobody noticed. Lost patients are permanent lost production.

More "Practice production, prioritized":

Practices should always focus on two things from a production standpoint. First, achieve as much production as possible as soon as possible. Second, keep your patients. So, why chase overdue patients to get them scheduled when you feel busy or productive? Most practices have a scheduling system that can be reengineered to increase production by 30%–50%; that’s why. Most practices have untapped scheduling capacity, and the easiest way to fill open chair time or slots in an expanded schedule is with overdue patients (often more than 15% of the total patient base). How do you do it? Implement “the one-day rule.” The one-day rule is simple, and we suggest that every practice follow it religiously. It states: Call any patient who is overdue for an appointment the day they are overdue—no matter what. This simple concept makes it virtually impossible to overlook overdue patients. Though simple, it can be hard to implement. How many front desk people, when asked when they contact overdue patients to get them scheduled, answer, “When I get some free time.” The front desk staff is typically extremely busy and has a multitasking job with little free time. There is always something to do. By implementing the one-day rule, you’re teaching your staff a regimen and creating a positive habit. And one thing that’s important to remember about contacting overdue patients is that this is a time when a phone call or voicemail is better than a text. Many practices have automated text systems that are great for reminding and confirming patients, but in our experience, phone communication or voicemails are the preferred method for scheduling overdue patients. When patients take your call or hear a voicemail using a positive script that displays caring, concern, and customer service, they are much more likely to make an appointment right then or call the practice back. It takes a little more effort, but it’s worth it.

Take the time to analyze how many of your current patients are overdue. Staying on top of any patient who is one day overdue for an appointment is a customer service to them and in the best interest of the practice. As a general target, the goal should be to schedule between 96% and 98% of all active patients at all times. By implementing the one-day rule described above, practices have the best chance of achieving this target and adding $1 million or more to the practice over the career of each dentist.   

Editor's note: This article appeared in the April 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.