It seems to be pandemic. It’s not just your dental office but dental offices around the world are experience hemorrhaging in their appointment schedule.
Years ago, during the economic decline, when our phone rang off the hook with dentists in a panic about the holes in their schedule I created a system and today’s blog will address only one of the pieces to reduce your last-minute appointment changes.
This is only one piece of the puzzle with a solution to stop the cancellations last minute. This blog will explain how your office voicemail will reduce last minute cancellations. For more in-depth solutions, a specific system, I suggest you grab the 5-Day Crack the Cancellation Code video training listed below.
WHY YOUR VOICEMAIL?
Doctor, do you know how many patients called your office last night and even worse, over the weekend and left a message to say they can’t make their appointment tomorrow. On the weekends they call saying “Something has come up and they can’t be there on Monday for their dental appointment.”
The front office hopefully listens to the voicemail first thing each morning but many times I have witnessed the front office checking voicemail AFTER the morning huddle and when you know about the last-minute holes.
Have someone check voicemail first thing each morning when they arrive to the office. It’s always best to know about changes (Let’s not even get into emergency calls from patients in pain. YES! I have witnessed patients calling with pain and no one bothered checking the voice messages until 11:00 AM. I know because I listened to the office recorded calls. That’s another blog for another day!) sooner than later.
If you use a patient engagement system, you also want to check text messages first thing each morning.
While I am mentioning text messages, be sure that you also tell your patients (Have a “Change of Appointment Procedure” that patients read, sign and make this part of their patient record) they can’t text to “Change an appointment.”
WHAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN YOUR VOICEMAIL MESSAGE?
Most dental offices do have voicemail where patients can leave a message for doctor and/or the team.
I recommend that doctors voice be on your voicemail. The response our clients have experienced with doctors’ voice on the voicemail seems to have a bigger impact and it seems to pull more weight when patients hear the doctors voice.
On your voice message, state that you are Dr. XYZ and say, “Thank you for call the office of ABC.” State your normal business hours and that if they are calling during regular business hours, you may be serving another patient. Tell them to please leave their name, the best number to call them back and ask them to say what they are calling about.
In the middle of your message do say, “If you are calling to change an appointment we only accept appointment changes during regular business hours. If you do need to change an appointment or if you have an emergency please call my cell phone at: 213-345-5678.”
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PATIENTS DO CALL DOCTORS CELL PHONE?
First of all, let me just tell you that if and when each patient understands the rules well, let me be more diplomatic here and say, when your patient understands your office procedure about changing an appointment, they will understand they need to call during normal business hours to change their appointment.
Take note that I am saying the word “Change” and not cancel. The reason for this is to cancel means terminate and your goal is for patients to call well in advance to change their dental appointment.
Rarely, do I hear that patients are calling doctors cell phone to change their appointment. Most patients who call and leave a message, not all, but most, do NOT have a valid reason to cancel a dental appointment last minute!
Most patients do not want to call “The doctor” especially if they don’t have a valid reason to cancel their dental appointment. Your voicemail has become an “easy out” for patients to cancel their dental appointment.
Yes, life happens but most patients, when they value their oral health, when they understand the value of their dental service to be completed, when patients know there is an important benefit for them to complete the dental service, they will be more likely to keep their appointment.
When the dental appointment has value and meaning to the patient, they will make accommodations for that “something else” that came up. They WILL put their dental appointment before a meeting at work or driving their child to soccer practice, etc.
Doctors are the worst offenders of the office appointment procedure. When patients do call the doctors cell phone, doctor must be able to refer back to the value and benefit to the patient for keeping their scheduled appointment.
When patients do call doctors cell phone doctor must be bold and let the patient know about the office “Change of Appointment Procedure.” Doctor must boldly inform the patient of the charge made for last minute changes.
Yes, life happens. Treat each patient who calls to change their appointment with individualized solution.
People get sick. Unfortunately, people die and there are emergency situations. Be understanding when these situations do occur in your patients’ life. Make the exception to the rule if it is the patients first offense calling last minute to change their dental appointment but do explain and reinforce your appointment procedure.
Understand when to talk about your appointment procedure and charges that will occur.
There seem to be a few patients who abuse your change of appointment procedure. You know who they are. YES?!
Let the 2nd and 3rd offender know that keeping their dental appointment is a challenge. When patients call to change their appointment frequently do charge them. If this is their 3rd offense, I recommend you say, “Mr. Patient, keeping your dental appointments seems to be quite challenging for you.”
Now be silent. Wait for their response. Wait. Yes, just wait for the patient on the other end of the phone to say something. Let this sink in.
Next, after your patient gives you their 3rd excuse WHY they can’t come in (maybe one hour from now or tomorrow morning, etc.), let them know, “Mr. Patient, what I can do is add you to our ASAP list. This means that when we have a last-minute opening I will text or call you to see if you can make it in. How does that sound?”
Wait for a response.
Once your patients responds, they will be put on the ASAP list, ask, “Do you prefer a text or phone call when an appointment becomes available?”
It is possible that when your patient is told they will be added to your ASAP list, that they will make accommodations to keep the dental appointment which they originally called to change.
WILL YOUR PATIENT BE OFFENDED?
It’s possible that your patient does not like hearing they need to follow your office procedures and they may feel defensive. Your patient may not be happy about you charging them or not feel to happy about being added to your ASAP list.
My question to you is, “What is your non-negotiable?”
Do you want patients in your dental practice who don’t respect your office procedures and have no respect that you reserved “X” amount of time for them?
I hope that last minute changes for no valid reason is a non-negotiable for you.
Lastly, “Teach your patients how you want to be treated.”
When you set boundaries for your patients, most will respect these boundaries and you will reduce the hemorrhaging in your appointment schedule.
Do you want more solutions to this pandemic disease in dental offices globally?
Grab our Crack the Cancellation Code video training here. During the training you receive 5 days of video trainings, forms to use and a lot more to reduce the changes in your appointment schedule.
ABOUT DEBBIE SEIDEL-BITTKE, RDH, BS
Debbie Seidel-Bittke, RDH, BS is founder and CEO of Dental Practice Solutions. Debbie is also a former dental hygiene program director. Her expertise is optimizing the hygiene department by taking a total team approach; including the doctor as the leader
Debbie Seidel-Bittke, is founder of Dental Practice Solutions and Dental Practice University and AGD Learning Center. She is committed to helping dentists optimize their systems through
improving productivity in the hygiene department and without working harder.
As owner of Dental Practice Solutions, Debbie and the entire team, support dentists to not only optimize their systems in the practice but they are the experts in hygiene department productivity.