How to Stop a New Patient from Cancelling Their Appointment

In my last two blogs/videos I shared telephone tactics to use when a new patient calls your dental practice.  If you haven’t read them, you can catch up here: Telephone Training Blog,  Now that you understand how to properly convert a new patient on the initial call, have the appointment scheduled, and insurance verified… we need to make sure they show up.  Let’s discuss how to stop a new patient from cancelling their appointment. 

On average, a dental office experiences a 10% cancellation rate each month.  Of that percentage, 5.5% are new patient cancellations.  This could be a result of many factors including:  a better deal (we are constantly bombarded with postcards offering “new patient specials”), a friend’s referral to another office, online office reviews, or so many other things.  We never truly know what triggered the new patient to decide not to show up for their appointment and even more so why they didn’t call our office to cancel.  Is this the cost of doing business or can we prevent these cancellations and keep the schedule in tact?  Let’s dive in…

If you know me, you know I preach about the importance of building a relationship on the initial new patient call.  It’s crucial.  Why?  It’s important because from the first point of contact, we train new patients how to treat us.  For example, I’ve heard “I’m pretty open next Wednesday or Thursday if either of those days works with your schedule.”  What message does this send to the patient?  It tells them that we aren’t that busy, they can dictate the schedule, and control when they show up.  We should say, “I can reserve an appointment for you either Wednesday at 11 or Thursday at 3.  Which do you prefer?”  This tells the patient that we manage our schedule carefully and we reserve our doctor’s time accordingly. 

Keeping along this same mindset, we need to be aware of how we end the “appointment setting” phase of the new patient phone call.  As front desk folks, we are so happy that we scheduled a new patient that we forget to close the deal.  Now, many consultants will tell you not to mention the “C” word…  Cancel.  I agree in every scenario except on the new patient call.  We need to set the stage for a two-way street of respect.  We reserve chair time, have the materials in office to take care of them, have well trained staff on hand for the appointment, etc.  When a new patient doesn’t show for their appointment, it costs us a lot more than just the reserved time slot on the schedule.  After the appointment is scheduled, we need to say, “We do ask that if you need to cancel or reschedule this appointment for any reason that you give us a 48-hour notice so that we can release the time to another patient who many need it.” 

Depending on how far out the appointment is scheduled, call them 48 hours prior.  This is what I call the “backwards confirmation”.  Say, “I want to let you know that Dr. Jones is looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday at 1:00.  He has set aside an hour and a half for your appointment.  If you have any questions, please give us a call” 

Then, the late afternoon/early evening on the day before the new patient’s appointment, have the doctor call.  He/She should say, “Hi.  This is Dr. Jones from Jones Family Dentistry. I am looking forward to meeting you tomorrow.  Do you have any questions or concerns about your appointment?”  New patients LOVE this and it goes a long way.  Nobody wants to stand up the doctor who called to personally to introduce her/himself!

Then there is a part two to the scenario.  The new patient calls after they’ve missed their appointment and apologizes with a plausible excuse.  We are so happy that we didn’t “lose” the new patient, we say “It’s okay.  We understand things happen.  Let’s get you back on the schedule.  We have time tomorrow at 2:00.”  Sound familiar?  Why are we training the new patient that it is okay to disrespect our time and that our schedule is so flexible that we can fit them in the next day?  We should say, “I’m sorry you weren’t able to keep your reservation with us.  As we discussed, we ask for a 48hr notice if you need to reschedule an appointment. Our cancellation policy requires a $75 fee however I will talk with the doctor and I’m sure he will waive it this time.  I show that the doctor has time on Monday the 30th at 10am (always make it two weeks out to show that your schedule is important).  Does that work for you?”

When I teach this method to front office teams, the most common fear I hear is that the patient won’t reschedule and we could lose the new patient all together.  Of course, this may happen.  You want it to happen.  This is how we weed out patients who don’t respect our time.  You don’t want those folks in your practice.  They will cause headaches and cost you money.  Successful practices have built a patient base that revolves around mutual respect.  We respect our patients by starting and ending their appointment on time, and they respect us by showing up on time for their appointment. 

Stay tuned…  next week’s article/video will talk about how to create the ultimate new patient experience from the time they walk into the practice.  It’s going to be great!

To learn more about training your dental front desk on the telephone, contact me today at FrontOfficeCoach@gmail.com or 214-755-0955.  For more information about our front office training solutions, visit www.FrontOfficeCoach.com.


About the Author…

Tracy Civick is a nationally recognized speaker, coach, and author who focuses on motivating dental front office teams to grow practice revenue and get a better handle on the daily dental practice front office tasks.  Her memberships include The Academy of Dental Management Consultants and AADOM, Academy of Dental Office Managers.

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