How to Reduce Dental Patient No-Shows by 41%

A missed or cancelled appointment is like a dagger – not to your heart – but to your billing. Across a variety of healthcare fields, the cost of a missed appointment can range from $50 to over $1,000.  And combined, no-shows cost the US healthcare system more than $150 billion a year.

As a practitioner, it’s a three-fold loss.

For one, you can’t get the time or money back.

Also, patients who would have otherwise showed up, get unnecessarily bumped to a later slot.

And you’re still on the hook for all of your fixed costs like electricity, rent and staffing expenses.

While you probably can afford to absorb a few missed appointments, some practices have no-show rates over 25%. It’s inevitable that some appointments will go unfilled, but bringing down the rate of your no-show appointments is one of the fastest ways to raise profitability across the board.

We’ve compiled three steps that can help your practice minimize the number of missed appointments you have to deal with:

1.       Make an appointment reminder call.

If you do nothing else, instituting a reliable system to remind your patients of upcoming appointments can have a big impact – so don’t skip this step.

How big of an impact?

A study by the American Journal of Medicine found the normal no-show rate of 23% dropped to 17% for those patients who received an automated appointment reminder, and fell further to 13% when patients received a personal call from a practice staff member. That’s a 41% drop in no-shows, or 10 fewer no shows per 100 appointments (!), which could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in saved revenue.

You can also email and text your patients to remind them the day of the appointment to ensure a complete communication strategy. If you choose an automated reminder solution, make sure it includes a way for patients to let you know if they can’t make the appointment.

2.       Institute and stick to a well-communicated cancellation policy.

Communicate your cancellation policy to patients, and tell them exactly how to cancel . You should give them as many reasonable options on how they can contact you to do so as possible – whether that’s by phone, email, text or via an online calendar. Information on cancellation should be on every appointment reminder card, bill, and communication you send or give your patient online or in person.

If the shoe were on the other foot, and you inevitably need to cancel or reschedule an appointment, be sure to follow your own rules as well. It’s only fair to hold your patients to the same standard that you also practice. For example, if you have a 48 hour cancellation policy, hold yourself to it.

When a patient does follow your cancellation policy and gives you the notice you require, be sure to thank them– it’s an opportunity to remind them of how much you appreciate the courtesy of cancelling in a timely fashion.

3.       Know when to walk away.

Patients who habitually miss appointments or show up late can cost you more money than they’re worth. Your practice is a place of business, and in business terms, you need to cut your loss leaders and focus on your profit centers. No-shows constrain your ability to help people who truly need it.

The tricky part is knowing under what circumstances you should fire a patient. For some fields of practice, it’s not always possible to terminate a patient immediately. If the patient is in acute distress, or in the middle of treatment or otherwise compromised medically, you may have to wait until they’re healthy to terminate. But if the patient is stable and not in need of immediate care, then a no-show patient is usually safe to let go. Always follow the rules and regulations of your field and double check to make sure you can actually terminate a patient before you do so.

Just as with your cancellation policy, you should come up with a termination policy. Let new patients know about your policy and strictly enforce it. Some doctors have a 3-strikes and you’re out policy. Some have a 1 strike and you’re out rule. Whichever policy you choose, if it comes time to terminate a patient, make sure you do so in a professional manner. Either you or your office manager should call them to break the news, and then send a follow up letter via first class mail reminding them of your policy and their missed appointments. In the letter include a list of other doctors you recommend they take their business to. Urge them to call your office for clarification or assistance in finding a new doctor.

Doctors sometimes charge patients for missed appointments or put them on a probationary period where they have to pay for appointments up front. Use these punitive measures carefully. Patients who habitually miss appointments aren’t likely to cave to monetary punishments. What’s the message you’re trying to send? Is it worth creating a variety of new billing paperwork and scheduling policies to accommodate irresponsible patients?

Your efforts will likely be better spent bringing in patients who will keep their appointments than chasing down no-shows.

It’s a testament to the healthcare profession that the no-show rate is as high as it is for so many doctors. People take advantage of the helping-field and think they can always re-schedule. This type of truancy is really unacceptable in any field, and it’s worth taking the steps to let your patients know the value of your time. Doing so will increase your profitability and let you focus on helping patients who can be bothered to show up.

Have any tips for decreasing no-shows? Leave them in the comments field below!