As much as appointment no-shows frustrate dental teams and undermine the financial stability of dental practices, dental teams understand the reality of those headlines promising solutions to eliminate dental appointment no-shows.
Though attractive, such headlines are unrealistic. The sheer nature of unforeseen circumstances within the complex and ever-changing lives of patients makes no-show elimination an impossibility. Or as The Journal of the American Dental Association recently wrote, “Realistically, even under the best circumstances, a dental office can expect up to 1% of their appointments to be missed or cancelled at the last minute.”
This is not to say dental practices can’t reduce appointment no-shows.
For example: A recent study of healthcare appointment no-shows by the Journal of Primary Care & Community Health revealed that “missed appointment rates range from 10% to 50% across healthcare settings,” including dental practices. Similarly, Dental Economics found that “up to 10% of dental appointments are cancelled,” meaning 10% was not consistent for all surveyed practices.
The differences in the numbers point to the big question to ask to reduce dental appointment no-shows and increase revenue for your practice:
What are some practices doing differently in the competitive dental market to bring down no-show rates and increase profitability?
Here are three tips:
1. Use Automated Dental Appointment Reminders
According to a meta-analysis by the medical journal BMJ Open, patients who received text-based notifications (meaning email and/or text messages) were 25% less likely to forget or not show for a practice appointment.
Moreover, “Multiple notifications were significantly more effective at improving attendance.”
Similarly, an older 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.
2. Use Patients’ Preferred Communication Method
We know, you’ve been using patient reminders for ages, right? That’s great, but if you haven’t changed outreach methods in a while it makes sense to confirm patient preferences.
Is your team reaching out to every patient with a friendly phone call? Do your senior patients receive the same text message or email reminder as your under 40 clientele?
Imagine if you tried to use the same instrument to remove plaque and apply sealant – makes you wince doesn’t it?
Trust us, the busy mom who’s juggling multiple schedules will not take kindly to your team’s reminder phone call no matter how friendly. However, a quick text that allows her to confirm with the press of a button will make her life a smidge easier and reinforce your practice’s patient-first, up-to-date image.
Bonus: 80% of patients in a Hanover Research study said they preferred text or email reminders over calls.
As convenient as technology is though, it isn’t for everyone. That email reminder doesn’t do Mrs. Smith any good if she never checks her inbox.
So make sure to choose an outreach method tailored outreach to individual patient preferences.
3. Offer Same-Day Dentist Appointments
It may not be possible to offer in every situation, but where you can, offer same day treatment appointments. Those who are getting off work to visit your practice will value not having to take another day off to complete their treatment.
Prep each room with everything needed for an unscheduled treatment.
Invest in tools & equipment that can increase your ability to eliminate no-shows with same-day dentistry.
4. Engage With Patients Year Round via Automated Patient Communications
Just because a patient may only visit your practice twice a year, doesn’t mean you should limit your communication to appointment reminders.
Let’s face it, when push comes to shove you’re less likely to miss an appointment with a doctor you know and trust than you are with someone to whom you have no connection.
Building relationships with your patients not only creates loyalty, it also helps to reduce no-shows. While emergencies may come up from time to time, an engaged patient is less likely to “forget” a cleaning when it happens to fall on the first beach day of the season.
A great way to stay in-touch throughout the year is to send birthday wishes and holiday greetings via text, email, or old school greeting cards. This can help strengthen patient relationships and keep you top-of-mind between scheduled appointments.
Worried that your front desk team will revolt if you add one more thing to their to-do list?
Enter the magic of automation. An automated patient communication system makes it easy to ensure every patient gets personalized birthday and holiday greetings in the manner they prefer.
To ensure optimal reach for your patient communications, make sure your automated messaging system has both email and text messaging.
To manage multiple notifications and further reduce the chances of dental appointment no-shows, practices take advantage of automated patient communications that sync with their practice management system to increase efficiency and reduce administrative time and labor.
Though email will continue to be effective for some patients, a recent national survey published by DentistryIQ revealed that 55% of respondents preferred text message appointment reminders over email.
5. Stick to a Well-Communicated Cancellation Policy
Communicate your cancellation policy clearly in all patient communications. Tell patients exactly how to cancel, should they need to. This minimizes the risk of cancellation penalties for patients and provides your front office staff with more time to fill an open appointment slot.
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 their dental appointment in a timely fashion.
4. Communicate Any Up-Front Billing Policies
It’s an unfortunate fact that dental practices don’t always get paid on time or in full by patients. To remedy this, some practices now require patients to make a deposit to secure a dental appointment, which has two main effects:
- Deposits incentivize patients to show up.
- Practices are guaranteed a certain percentage of services, whether patients avail those services.
If your practice has up-front billing policies to improve your accounts receivable before they’re in arrears, communicate them clearly and well ahead of a patient’s scheduled appointment.
Beyond purely administrative communications like dental appointment reminders, cancellation policies, and billing policies, patients are more likely to keep dental appointments when they feel a sense of personal connection with your practice.
5. Have a Back-up Plan: Cancellation/ASAP Lists
Life happens and when it inevitably hands you lemons be ready with a cup of sugar to turn them into sweet lemonade (although we won’t judge if, in a fit of frustration, you choose to first throw those lemons).
People get sick, things come up and no-shows happen – end of story?
Not for practices that utilize an ASAP list. These lists contain patients who would like to be seen sooner if possible, as well as those who can typically get to the office on short notice. Automated patient communication systems allow your team to quickly notify your ASAP list of last minute openings, which helps to keep your chair from growing cold.
So, in short, how can you reduce no-shows?
First, ensure appointment reminders get to patients by sending them via their preferred communication method – phone, postcard, text or email.
Second, offer same day appointments where possible.
Third, work on building patient relationships by staying in touch throughout the year. People are less likely to unnecessarily skip an appointment if they have a personal connection. So, automate customized patient communications with things like birthday wishes, holiday greetings, general oral healthcare tips, and other communications that strengthen patient connections and help reduce no-shows by keeping your practice top of mind all year.
Fourth, communicate your billing & cancellation policies well & up front.
Lastly, accept that while you can reduce no-shows, you can’t prevent them so implement an ASAP procedure to help you manage unexpected scheduling hiccups.
Overall, automated email and text messaging help minimize dental appointment no-shows and build lifelong patients to keep your dental chairs full, which is why dental practices choose PracticeMojo, the complete patient communication platform by ProSites.
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