No More No-shows

Jan. 17, 2014
Surveys report up to 10% of dental appointments are cancelled, adding up to a significant cost. In fact, if a practice loses one appointment each day for a year ...

by Jen McGuire

Surveys report up to 10% of dental appointments are cancelled, adding up to a significant cost. In fact, if a practice loses one appointment each day for a year, the lost production would be in the range of $20,000 to $70,000!

Empty chairs hurt both the practice and the patient, who is not getting the care he or she needs. Review your practice data to determine what percent of your appointments are cancelled and set a goal for reducing that number this year.

Use the following tips to keep your chairs full and patients healthy in 2014:

1. Offer same-day dentistry.

Why put off for two weeks what you can do today? Many patients will appreciate the opportunity to complete treatment without a return visit and another day out of work. While not all treatments are feasible for providing same-day, with planning and training many are. Organize supplies by procedure type and stock each operatory so every room is always prepared for an unscheduled treatment. With CAD/CAM, you can expand opportunities for same-day restorative dentistry even further. You will be surprised by how many additional procedures you can fit into your schedule, and how many cancellation opportunities you can eliminate with same-day dentistry.

2. Send appointment reminders using the patient's preferred method of communication.

Phone, email, mail, and text confirmations all have pros and cons. But no method will be as effective as the one patients select themselves. At the next appointment, ask a patient for the best way to reach him or her and for a back-up contact number. Going forward, respect patient wishes regarding communication whenever possible.

Create separate communications systems for patients with a history of cancellation and those who are new to the practice. Use several communication methods to reach past offenders to give them every opportunity to avoid another cancellation. A personal call from the doctor to welcome new patients to the practice and answer any questions will help build loyalty to the practice and reduce the likelihood of future cancellations.

3. Use behavioral styles to guide appointment scheduling.

A commander patient will tell you exactly when he wants to come in. Always accommodate if possible. Identify commander patients by listening for "you can't" and watching for defensive body posture. Commanders will take control of the conversation, and easily become argumentative.

An empathizer patient is great to schedule in hard-to-fill time slots. Ask the empathizer if he or she could help you out, and this person is usually more than happy to take a less desirable appointment time. Identify empathizers by listening for "I feel" statements. These patients are friendly, smiling, and have open body language.

A performer patient is not likely to remember the appointment, and is most likely to have to reschedule. If the performer reschedules more than once, consider putting him or her on a call list and contacting the patient for same-day appointments. Patients who are neat and fussy about their appearance may be performers. You can also listen for "I see" statements and watch for broad gestures.

An analyzer patient will probably have a calendar on a phone and knows his or her schedule for the next six months. An analyzer will remember an appointment and keep it. Patients that are organized and prepared are often analyzers. They have often researched their dental needs prior to an appointment.

4. If all else fails, charge a broken appointment fee.

Have a policy in place that allows you to assess a broken appointment fee as a last resort. You may choose to waive the fee for the first missed appointment and charge a repeat offender. Decide which team members are authorized to charge (or drop) the fee and make sure your policy is communicated to all patients.

Communication with the patient and within the office is critical to the process of reducing cancellations. Communicate the value of care, offer convenient scheduling, and remind patients to come in. Within the office, make sure everyone understands, communicates, and follows cancellation policies consistently. To monitor progress toward your goal, include cancellations as a regular topic on your daily huddle agenda.

For more assistance in reducing appointment cancellations or addressing behavioral styles, visit

With more than a decade of marketing experience in the health-care industry, Jen McGuire leads the marketing of Henry Schein Dental's Business Solutions. As part of this offering, McGuire developed and launched dentistry's first wellness program, Total HealthTM Beyond the Mouth. Contact her at (800) 372-4346 or at [email protected]. Learn more at

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