How to keep patients on a string

An essential part of running a successful practice is getting your patients in for their treatment appointments and for their recall appointments, and on time! This is easier said than done and many established processes no longer work as well as they once did. Here’s how successful practices manage to do it.

Recalling patients for check-ups, hygiene visits and treatment

  • The overriding principle is that all patients always have their next appointment booked in. (No sending out random appointments by post(!) or email to patients who aren’t sure why they really need one!)
  • Segment your database into three groups: 1. Active patients with their next appointment booked, 2. Active patients who need to make their next appointment, 3. Inactive patients. (The secret is to make the first group by far the largest group.)
  • Have your receptionists trained to do their utmost to book patients their next appointment before they leave the practice.
  • If the patient won’t cooperate, have your receptionists arrange to call the patient as soon as possible (preferably later that same day) at an agreed time on an agreed number in order to make the next appointment.
  • If this call fails (for whatever reason) email the patient an appointment chosen by the receptionist and ask the patient to confirm that this appointment is suitable for them.
  • Remind the patient by email one month before the appointment (automate this).
  • Remind the patient by email one week before the appointment (automate this).
  • Text the patient two working days before that appointment (automate this).

This system, out of the many variations, keeps the most number of patients with appointments and has them turn up in the highest numbers.

What to do with patients who cancel late

  • Make it clear in your terms and conditions that there will be a charge for cancellations within two working days of an appointment (excluding exceptional circumstances).
  • Train your receptionists to handle late cancellation calls so that instead of saying a version of, “No problem, I’ll make you a new appointment,” they say, “I’m afraid we will have to make a late cancellation charge unless we can fill your appointment, is there any way that you can still make your appointment today/tomorrow?”
  • Run a system which delivers your version of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ so you minimise disruption and lost earnings from habitual late cancellers.

What to do with patients who arrive late

  • First of all, you can’t do anything other than welcome them to the practice if they are frequently seen late by your dentists and hygienists!
  • If you do have clinicians who have learned to run on time or very nearly on time, decide on an amount of lateness that allows the clinicians to still deliver the required treatment. It’s likely to be around 20% of the appointment time, meaning patients can be up to six minutes late for a 30 minute appointment and 12 minutes late for a 60 minute appointment before it’s cancelled.
  • Whenever patients book appointments and whenever your practice reminds them, ask them to arrive 10-15 minutes early (and tell them what time this will be) so they can get comfortable, relax, use the rest room and take some refreshments etc.
  • Make it clear in reception that if patients arrive late you may not be able to see them.
  • Have all clinicians running the same system — transparency is the key.

The channels you use to contact patients may need to evolve over time. Phone calls and voicemails are probably the least effective channel (despite most of us living with a phone in our pocket…). Email is effective for people who read their emails (not everyone does!). In my experience the most effective channel to get someone’s attention in 2016 is text messaging. So I suggest you consider using text more often going forwards!

If you need help in having more of your patients come more often to your practice, contact me for a chat.

m. 07770 430576


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