All dental practices face the issue of open time in the schedule, though it is a bigger problem for some than others. Openings due to last-minute cancellations or no-shows cause stress, frustration and loss of production. Implementing the following management strategies will minimize future gaps in your practice’s schedule.
Use scripts to help dental patients keep their appointments.
Better scripting can encourage patients to keep their current appointment rather than going through the trouble of rescheduling. Instead of offering an appointment in the next day or so, select a time several weeks out and then offer to add them to your short-call list. Patients will be satisfied with their upcoming appointment while also in the queue to fill other openings in the schedule.
Create a system to proactively reduce late-notice cancellations and no-shows.
Build your schedule on the needs of the practice while acknowledging patient history, including treatment acceptance, scheduling and keeping appointments. To do this, you’ll need to build rapport with patients, improve treatment presentation communication skills, convey the value of the dental treatment provided, and establish strategic scheduling protocols.
Key indicators of patients’ value for oral health can guide us on how to schedule them in a way that works for both them and the practice. How much value patients put in their dental care is often dictated by their current life circumstances.
For example, college students may not be as active in the practice due to their school schedule. We know from experience that pre-scheduling a 6-month hygiene appointment may not be ideal since students won’t have their class schedule that far in advance. Post-graduation, the same patient may have the financial resources and regular schedule to accommodate pre-scheduled visits.
Managing patient appointments using a category or classification system is a time-tested approach. Over 60 years ago, L.D. Pankey, D.D.S. created a classification of dental patients based on “the patients’ wants and needs (circumstances) concerning dentistry, their appreciation of and willingness to participate in high-quality dental care and their ability to pay a fair fee.” Since then, many other systems have been developed within the dental industry.
To quickly see results in your efforts to minimize cancellations and no-shows, we recommend dividing patients into two simple categories: planners and waiters. Planners are patients who value their dental care and plan ahead. Planners pre-book hygiene appointments three, four or six months out and generally honor the time commitment they have made. These patients can be offered more appointment options.
The second category, waiters, value dentistry less and do not plan ahead. They may schedule a time but cancel at the last minute or fail to show up for a variety of reasons, such as fear, finances or forgetfulness. Waiters should be offered appointments convenient for the practice, such as time slots that are difficult to fill, or simply be put on the short-call list.
In short, here are the steps your team can take to reduce cancellations and no-shows in your dental practice:
- Train front office team members with scripts to reduce short-notice cancellations.
- Build an effective short-call list. Identify “waiters” and only schedule them as far out in the schedule as you can trust them.
- Proactively create a universal strategic scheduling system to manage each patient according to their type.
Begin implementing these concepts now to see improvements in as little as two weeks for the doctor’s schedule and six months for the hygiene schedule. Over time, consistent use of these protocols will help build a strong, productive schedule, reduce stress for the dental team, and improve your practice profitability.
Meet the Author
Dental Practice Consultant
Karen Burnett, RDH, MA
Aldrich CPAs + Advisors LLP
For Karen Burnett, enthusiasm for dentistry includes over 30 years of experience ranging from dental assisting and dental hygiene to more than 12 years of experience in dental practice coaching. She takes pride in providing results-oriented business solutions, using a tailored approach for the growth of individuals and teams. She is skilled in internal and…
- Dental business management
- Hygiene program profitability and analysis
- Treatment presentation and incomplete treatment follow-up
- New patient recruitment and retention
- Practice administration