Here are four steps you can take to keep your schedule full and practice productive.
David J. Sternberg
The weather is something you can complain about, but not do anything about. Unlike the weather, you can complain about failed appointments and actually do something about them! Read on for some easy-to-implement ideas for improving your practice`s kept-appointment rates.
Advance Confirmation Calls
Most offices will wait until the day before a patient`s appointment to make the confirmation (reminder) call, often late in the afternoon! The result, several messages on answering machines and, if you should learn that a patient can`t make his/her appointment, there`s not enough time to fill in the hole!
By making your confirmation calls two, full days in advance and at a different time than the day before if you received no answer, you are going to get the following results:
1. Greater chance of actually speaking with the patient.
2. More opportunity for him/her to call you back in case he/she can`t make it.
3. More time to fill holes caused by patients rescheduling.
The 90 Percent Correlation
Did you know that the longer the lead-time (the number of days between a new patient calling and his/her actual appointment), the higher the percentage of failed appointments? That`s logical, but this fact alone won`t help you achieve a 90 percent or better kept-appointment rate for your office.
To use this knowledge within the realities of practice management, the receptionist also must understand that it is the patient`s perception of his/her dental need that will dictate how long he/she will wait for an appointment and still keep it 90 percent of the time. For example, let`s say that two patients call with symptoms of bleeding gums. One knows this is a sign of minor periodontitis and will wait a week to see the doctor without too much concern. The other patient, however, does not know this, takes the same one week lead-time, but then calls around to find someone else who can see him/her sooner.
Key tip: Always ask any patient who mentions even the slightest concern or symptom if the appointment is going to be too long for him/her to wait. If the patient hesitates at all, squeeze him/her in sooner, even if it`s just for a quick, complimentary "peace-of-mind" examination before the full appointment.
Your Patients As Individuals
No, it is not practical or realistic to "uninvite" every patient in your practice who has a tendency to miss appointments with you. On the other hand, you certainly can see why many consultants suggest doing this. Indeed, a chronic-appointment failer easily can cost your practice more than the production he/she will generate.
To be truly effective managing chronic-appointment failers, your office must have a variety of solutions to offer them. For example, the patient who never knows his/her schedule in advance can be put on a "last-minute list." You can call these patients at the last-minute (to fill holes) and if they happen to be available, they can come right in. If not, they haven`t caused a hole in your schedule. Other solutions should include your office communications, missed-appointment fees and/or first or last appointments arrangements.
The old Model T is to automobiles what the "Waiting List" is to practice-marketing systems. Amazingly, some offices don`t even have a good waiting-list system; they still are using a horse and buggy!
The most advanced practices today use organized pending-appointment books to give them quick access to patients who can fill holes created by cancellations. There are a variety of other benefits that a good pending-book system can give your office, such as using it for increasing treatment-acceptance rates as well.
With a little extra effort, it is quite possible to increase your office`s kept-appointment rates. The systems described within this article take very little extra time of the receptionist or office staff. As with all internal-marketing programs, success will be determined by consistent effort.
The author is president of Advanced Practices Inc. of Hoffman Estates, IL. The firm provides internal-marketing programs for dental practices throughout the United States. For additional information, call 708-884-1120.