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Patient Relationship

5 Secrets to Preventing Last Minute Patient Cancellations

Last updated on June 14th, 2022 at 06:25 pm

Updated: 6/14/2022

Patients cancelling their appointments last-minute can understandably be frustrating for dentists & their dental staff, who often take the common approach of simply re-booking an appointment farther down the production schedule.

And sure, some patients may only have to wait days for a new appointment. Yet some patients may have to wait weeks or months. This can be frustrating for them, and dental marketing is about building relationships with current and prospective patients, who typically view dental practices as a service.

This means, in a competitive dental market where customer experience directly impacts revenue, waiting weeks or months can easily come off as not being much of a service.

So, the question for dental practices naturally becomes this:

How do you provide optimal service to patients with respect to appointments while also doing what you can to prevent last-minute cancellations to keep your dental chairs full and profits high?

Here are five secrets:

  1. Enable Patients to Book and Cancel Appointments Online

Patients cancel appointments because something has come up like an unexpected business meeting or daycare cancellation. This means they may be too busy to spend time on the phone to make a dental appointment cancellation.

When your dental practice system allows patients to easily cancel and reschedule appointments conveniently:

  • You provide a service that meets the needs of patients
  • You make it easier for patients to fill your schedule

For cancellations that are literally last-minute and therefore must happen over the phone, a patient may only think their cancellation is unavoidable. A few small concessions on your part may be all that’s necessary for them to make their appointment.

If a cancellation truly is unavoidable, an understanding and accommodating disposition engenders a feeling of gratitude for patients, which strengthens loyalty toward your dental practice and incentivizes patients to keep rescheduled appointments.

At the same time, an understanding disposition causes patients to be understanding toward your cancellation policies and view them as reasonable, whether you charge for same-day cancellations or limit the number of times per year that a patient can cancel.

Read more about using technology to increase patient satisfaction.

  1. Provide Patients with Solutions

If a last-minute cancellation is indeed a flexible situation for a patient, express concern while asking why the patient needs to cancel.

If a patient cancels often, find out if there’s a bigger reason behind it. Was there a recent change in their insurance policy? Are they perhaps now on shift work? If you can identify the root cause, you can help a patient solve the overall problem.

Unless there is a dire and immediate need where a patient must not miss their appointment, refrain from pressure. This can backfire, cause negative feelings in patients, and cause dental practices to lose patients. When you offer a solution that can accommodate a patient, they’re more likely to take you up on that solution and keep their appointment instead of cancelling it.

  1. Send Timely Appointment Confirmation Emails

Send an appointment reminder email a month, week, and day before an appointment, and another 72 hours before an appointment. Include the date, time, and location of your practice for convenience. The more you help keep an appointment top of mind with a patient, they more they see it as something to keep a priority when something else comes up for them that can be rescheduled instead of their dental appointment.

Refrain from focusing overtly on cancellation methods and policies in such messages. Over-messaging in this way can cause patients to think about cancellation, and the goal is naturally to have patients keep their appointment. Focus more on saying how much you’re looking forward to seeing them on a specific day and time.

To ensure you send out appointment confirmation emails in a timely manner (and to reduce administrative time and labor in the process), use automated patient communications that offer the flexibility of email and text messaging to reach patients where they prefer to consume information.

Here are the top six benefits of automating your patient communications.

  1. Reward Good Behavior

You don’t need to read a behavioral study to know that positive reinforcement supports positive behavior better than negative reinforcement. Obviously, if you have a patient that’s habitually late or continually cancels, you must do something to dissuade them from impacting the dental appointments of other patients. Yet simple things like an appreciative thanks to patients for showing up on time can ensure the same patients show up on time (or early) next time to feel appreciated again.

  1. Extend or Change Your Hours if Necessary

Patients are people, meaning things change for them. Work hours change. Family commitments come along, etc. This not only means patients must cancel appointments they suddenly can’t keep. Your practice may be close to permanently losing a patient because your dental hours no longer work for them. So, touch base with your patients. Ask them whether your current hours still work for their life, and if not, consider extending or changing your hours to meet their needs. This not only helps reduce appointment cancellations. It helps attract new patients for whom your new hours work better.

For more secrets on how to avoid last-minute cancellations, download our free whitepaper—Automated Dental Patient Communication: How to Keep More Patients with Less Work.

Get it right away by filling out the form below.

Here’s to your practice success!

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