Patient Cancellations

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Patients | Policies

Despite the best of intentions, patients sometimes have legitimate reasons to cancel appointments. A small percentage of patients might be more prone to cancel frequently-or just not show up. Since the best offense is a good defense, it’s important to motivate patients to keep their appointments by stressing how regular oral health care can lead to good systemic health.

  • Most practices have a very specific cancellation policy, which is especially helpful for patients who are prone to cancelling appointments.
    • Patients are more likely to keep appointments if they know and understand that you expect them to be there.
    • Designate a member of the team to speak with patients who habitually cancel their appointments. Have them use a brief “elevator speech” that cordially but firmly advises the patient that the time set aside for their appointment is part of a carefully planned schedule.
    • Display your appointment policy in a prominent place visible to all patients. Stress the policy’s importance by making the sign big, but not obtrusive.
    • Include the policy in every new patient package and have patients sign it to confirm they’ve received the notice. Some practices have a staff member also sign the document as a witness that it was provided.
    • Consider implementing a policy that charges patients a fee if they cancel their appointment with less than 24 or 48 hours’ notice. Apply the penalty judiciously; charging a fee can strain the relationship. Long time patients likely don’t expect to be charged for changing their appointment. Patients who are prone to canceling for no valid reason might benefit from a “disincentive” that encourages them to keep their scheduled appointments.
    • Since some staff members may be uncomfortable telling patients they owe money for an appointment they didn’t keep, provide staff with a sample script that makes it easier to explain this policy to patients.
    • Consider adjusting patient appointment times based on each patient’s dependability. One possibility is double-booking appointments for patients who routinely fail to show; this will require the practice to adapt if the patient does show up on time. Another option is to schedule patients who are frequently late 30 minutes before their actual appointment so they actually arrive on time. Keep in mind that your front desk staff may need to adjust other patients’ appointments in those situations.
  • Where circumstances warrant, consider rescheduling cancelled appointments four to six weeks out rather than immediately. This allows you to maintain the normal flow of your schedule and imposes a natural consequence for cancelling without being heavy handed.
  • Use your practice management software to track patients who frequently cancel their appointments and then talk with them about the importance of keeping their regularly scheduled appointments.

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