Ask yourself: What is the most important factor in ensuring patients keep their dental appointments?
If your first thought is “confirmation calls or texts”, you would not be alone, although you would be wrong! When you experience a no-show in your schedule, the first thing you may look to is the confirmation list. “Did we actually speak with the patient, or leave a message?” “Do we have a good phone number?”
Another element we rely heavily on is the recall system that the office has in place. “Did the patient receive a reminder card in the mail?” “Were they properly entered into our continuing care system?”
Recall systems are a necessary component of a healthy hygiene department, of course. Confirmation calls are a nice compliment to that. However, they are just that; a component and a compliment to the real factor that ensures patients make and keep appointments.
Surprisingly, it is not your system.
Your relationships with your patients determine if they make appointments and keep them. If you aren’t sure about this, I challenge you to think about the appointments in your own life that you never want to miss. Do you have a friendly hair stylist you would never stand up? A personal trainer that gives you the push you need to be your best? A much-needed massage with the masseuse who knows where your muscle pain is located? These are all appointments, but also relationships. Not deep or complicated ones, but important ones in your life.
In contrast, think of some appointments you are tempted to reschedule or not even show up for when life gets busy. The DMV. A physician who is always seems curt and rushed, with the staff who seems overwhelmed and disinterested. The nail salon where you see a different technician each time you visit. Going to the DMV or the doctor is likely more important than going to the hairstylist or masseuse. Why do we make time for one, and not the other?
I had the pleasure of spending a week in a delightful practice a few years ago. A casual observer would not have noticed anything remarkable about this practice. First, it was small, and in need of some updating. The staff was tiny as well, with just one doctor, whose wife worked the front desk. The technology employed was good, but certainly not cutting edge. They didn’t sponsor little league teams or community 5K’s. They closed at 4:30 p.m., offering no extended hours. The recall system was adequate, but not complicated. The short call list was a (gasp!) spiral notebook. Patients received reminder cards by snail mail, not texts or emails. Despite all of this, they had something remarkable going on.
In the seven full days I spent with them, neither the doctor nor the hygienist had a single no-show. One patient canceled, but that person called ahead.
Their overall schedule utilization in the past year was over 90%.
There was a good deal of competition in the area (I counted at least five dentists within two miles, and one was right next door!). Their patients were not folks with nothing better to do than to visit the dentist. They were not wealthy. They were busy families with kids and teens, young professionals with crazy schedules, baby boomers who worked, traveled, and had kids home from college, and elderly parents to care for.
So why was everyone showing up?
It was remarkably simple. So simple in fact, that I questioned it myself. But there it was…
The doctor saw every hygiene recall, if even for only a couple of minutes. He and the team asked about their patient’s lives and families. In morning huddles, they spoke about their patients as if they were close friends. Patients were cheerfully greeted by name when they walked in. They sat down to talk to patients, took off their masks, and looked them in the eye. They listened more than they talked. They were honest. Patients were cared about, and they knew it.
The hygienists’ 4:00 was not her “scaling and root planing”; it was Mrs. Jenkins. The doctors 10:00 was not his “crown seat”; it was Bob Jones.
The 11:00 was not “the last patient before lunch”; it was Shirley Smith.
All of this may sound quaint and overly simple, but there is no denying that it works. I have spent time in practices that had state of the art recall systems with text reminders, and who spent thousands on marketing and office decor. In many of those cases, no shows and cancellations were still an ever-present concern. Why? Because their patients did not attach any emotion to seeing them. It was just another appointment. Pleasant and important, but not special enough to make a priority. No amount of marketing, calling, texting, or educating will keep a patient coming back if they don’t feel that you genuinely care about them.
Fortunately, at American Dental Partners, we take these simple principles to heart! Our team members do our best to treat every patient as a person, and we train our teams to treat patients the way they would treat a family member.
We know that making these simple, yet important, connections ensures fuller schedules, happier teams, and satisfied patients.
Spend a few minutes thinking about those appointments you never miss, and ask yourself why you keep and look forward to them. You may discover that there is more emotion attached to them than you ever realized. How can you ensure your patients feel the same way about you?
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