Minimizing Canceled Appointments

If you’ve noticed an increase in canceled appointments at your practice, it may be due to the overall increase in them nationwide during these difficult economic times. Even in a booming economy, canceled appointments are part of operating a dental practice, but they can be managed to minimize their effect on your bottom line.

One way to reduce your cancellations is to confirm and reschedule appointments in the same manner every time. This creates a pattern your patients get used to, which may make them less likely to cancel. Below are a series of talking points created by the ADA that you can try with your patients. Read them as written, or modify them to fit your needs. The important part is to use them consistently and to follow all the rules of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act when doing so.

If you receive the patient’s answering machine:

“Hello, this is [Name] from [ABC Dental] calling for [Patient Name].  Our phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX.  This is a reminder that your dental appointment is scheduled for [Date] at [Time]. Oral health is an important part of overall health. Regular checkups are important. See you on [Date] at [Time].”  In order to respect HIPAA regulations, it is best to limit your message to appointment time and date.  Do not discuss treatment in a message you are leaving.

If a patient calls back to indicate he or she is unable to keep the dental appointment:

“I’m sorry to hear you can’t make your appointment. Regular checkups are important to keep an eye on your oral health and to take care of any problem as early as possible. Left unchecked, conditions can worsen over time. We can reschedule your appointment for [suggest different date/time].”

If a patient says he or she can’t afford the appointment or lost dental benefits, etc.:

I’m sorry to hear that, and I can understand that now might not be a good time for you. It’s important to see the doctor regularly. Tooth decay, gum disease and other conditions can worsen over time and that means treatment can be more complicated and costly. Regular checkups mean the doctor can diagnose conditions early on when treatment is simpler and more affordable. We could reschedule your appointment for [suggest different date/time].”

If patient will not reschedule the appointment:

“Give our office a call when you’re able to see the doctor again so we can continue to care for your dental health. In the meantime, we encourage you to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss once a day and eat a balanced diet. These things will help, but aren't a substitute for professional dental care. Take care, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.”

3 tips to help prevent cancellations:

  1. Write your home phone number on the appointment card. This personalizes the dentist/patient relationship, making broken appointments less likely.
  2. Once you’ve received permission to do so from your patients, call them at home or on their cell phones to confirm their upcoming appointments.
  3. Make sure your staff members remind patients to notify the office if they can’t make an appointment.