Prevent Last Minute Cancellations

Your time is valuable. And few things are more frustrating than a last minute cancellation that leaves a big gap in your schedule. One of the most common ways of handling cancellation offenders is to make them wait to get back into the schedule. Sometimes patients have to wait months to get back on the schedule. Is this the best way to handle the situation?

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The world of internet marketing – social media, web page user experience, blogging, etc. – is about building relationships with your current and potential patients. Patients want a dentist they trust. They want services that are top-notch. From PPC brand awareness campaigns to social media posts and conversations, everything we talk about in these articles is designed to help your practice deliver those desired services and patient experience. Handling appointments and cancellations is no different.

Add convenience when possible. Your practice may have a system that allows your patients to schedule, cancel and reschedule appointments for future dates online. This is a great service that can make filling the appointment calendar easier for both you and your patients. Just remember to create settings that prohibit cancellations and rescheduling within 72 hours of the initial appointment. Cancellations within that 72 hour window will have to occur over the phone. I can’t stress this enough. Last minute cancellations should always be handled with a conversation over the phone. It is a great opportunity to enhance your practice’s personal engagement and service with a smile attitude.

Relate to your patients. Understanding your patients is the first step in building a long lasting relationship. Cancellations happen for two basic reasons. One reason is an unavoidable circumstance. For instance, an illness or the boss scheduled a meeting and your patient’s job depends on being there. Reason two tends to be a bit more flexible – something came up after making the appointment. It could be an unexpected lunch date. Or, they simply need to pick their children up from an event at the time of the appointment. A patient may think these are unavoidable, but a couple small concessions may be all that is necessary for them to make their scheduled dental appointment.

Always ask questions when there is a cancellation request. Too often practices simply say okay and then punish the patient by making them wait for a couple months to get back on the schedule. When the front office staff speaks with a cancellation, the first thing they should do is show concern and find out why the patient needs to cancel. Establish whether it’s an unavoidable or possibly flexible situation. If you deem it a flexible situation, begin thinking urgency and solution. Explain what will happen to their teeth if they don’t keep the appointment while asking questions that may lead your patient to change their minds about canceling. And always try to offer a solution. Maybe their children can carpool with friends or a spouse can pick them up. Patients won’t always make adjustments to keep their appointments, but they are more likely to if you present a solution.

Give reminders without cancellations options. Send appointment reminder emails and phone calls at least seven days before the appointment. If you can do them again 72 hours before that would be great. Try using text messages for the second reminder. It is important that these messages don’t offer a way to cancel. When we say things, like “if you need to cancel or reschedule your appointment call…” patients are no longer thinking about keeping their appointment, but rather how to cancel it. Confirmation emails and phone calls should simply say we are looking forward to seeing you on a specific day at a specific time. This approach leaves patients thinking about making their appointments, not canceling them.

Consider rewarding good behavior. One thing that has been proven in behavioral studies is that positive reinforcement modifies behavior better than negative reinforcement. Obviously, if you have a patient that is habitually late to appointments or has multiple last minute cancelations you have to do something to dissuade them from doing it again. As we previously said this leads to a long wait to get back on the dental schedule. But what about a positive reinforcement campaign? A gift card giveaway might be just the thing. Using Facebook and other social media outlets your practice can highlight how valuable everyone’s time is during the busy holiday months. Then when patients are on time for scheduled appointments put their name in for a giveaway.

How do you typically handle appointment cancellations? Leave your comments and feedback below! And, download the free whitepaper, Automated Dental Patient Communication: How to Keep more Patients with Less Work by filling out the form below.