“Let Doctor know, the 10 o’clock just cancelled …”

The dreaded Monday morning answering machine message, “I can’t make it in today” … this is one of the things that make ...

By JoAn Majors

The dreaded Monday morning answering machine message, “I can’t make it in today” … this is one of the things that make the appointment coordinator crazy and the doctor feel disrespected. So how do you handle these last-minute cancellations?

Often, a cancellation or no-show is a symptom of the money virus. This symptom can be avoided by working with a company such as CareCredit. We’ve got a few other proven ideas, and we want you to put them to the test.

We realize that this may be uncomfortable for some, but we guarantee that it won’t be nearly as uncomfortable to you as it is to the disrespectful patient. Incidentally, we’re going to suggest that you retrain your patients. The typical answer to a patient who cancels is, “OK, thanks for calling,” or “Would you like to reschedule?” If it’s a problem when a patient cancels (and in most instances, it is), just tell them this in a way that is respectful and impactful.

Our method is simple; it just takes doing it to make a difference. Here’s an example: The patient says, “I need to cancel my appointment,” or “I need to reschedule my appointment.” The team member pauses and says very simply, “Oh, my … do you have an emergency?” The real problem is waiting for the answer and realizing the patient’s mother can only die once! Once you get past your fear of being rejected, this technique works like magic nine out of 10 times. Because you are the office scheduler, you just have to say it with conviction! In other words, you have to believe it will work.

I know. Right about now the “doubting Thomas” side of you is thinking, no way! Well, I can assure you it works. If you just get past your old habits to try it, you’ll see that what happens in the mind of a patient when you say, “Oh, my …” is an interruption in their train of thought. When you add, “Do you have an emergency?” the patient is taken aback because he or she doesn’t expect this. You’ve never asked before, and many times it’s the same patients who have become conditioned by our response to believe their changing or cancelling an appointment is no problem. After all, we wouldn’t want to make a patient mad, now would we? Get over it! You won’t make a patient angry if your intent is in the right place. This is not to denigrate or insult patients; rather, it’s to let them know they matter and that keeping their appointment with Dr. Amazing or Heidi Hygiene is important. This new way of speaking to them implies that there must be an emergency for someone to cancel this important appointment. Believe this and your patients will begin to believe it too.

It’s dramatically different than telling a patient you’ll put him or her on your “cancellation list.” This implies you have cancellations — so many, in fact, that there’s a list! They have now made your list. How about saying, “OK, Ms. Busier Than Me, if you cannot make it in today, we can place you on our short-notice list. Should Heidi Hygiene happen to have a change in her schedule, we will call you on short notice. Perhaps this will work better for you since you have had to change several appointments. Heidi’s schedule is really packed, and I hate to schedule another appointment you aren’t sure you can keep. How does that sound?”

Now, pick yourself up off the floor. You and your appointment coordinators need to practice this dialogue! This works, and you’ll get a different response, so be prepared. Many patients will say, “Well, it’s not an emergency. I just can’t make it.” Your reply should be, “Well, Ms. Busy, if it’s not an emergency, may I ask you to keep this appointment that you and the doctor agreed to? At this late notice, I won’t be able to place someone else in your agreed-upon appointment time.”

Now, the hard part is … you have to wait for the answer. Many — no, most — will say, “OK, I’ll come. I didn’t know it was a problem.” We want so badly to be liked that we overlook our opportunity to gain respect for our time. This is a relatively simple way to retrain your patients about how they treat you.

Until next time, here’s a quote to contemplate from the book “Encouragements” — To change from nice and naïve to nice and knowledgeable, you must first change your attitude.

See you on the road.

JoAn Majors is a registered dental assistant, published author, and professional speaker. In addition to her speaking, she leads team training for the Misch International Implant Institute. For a free copy of “10 Tips for Implementing Implant Dentistry” and more on her seminars and latest book, “Encourage Mentors: Sixteen Attitude Steps for Building Your Business, Family, and Future,” visit www.joanmajors.com or call (866) 51-CHOICE. “The time is now ... the choice is yours!”

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