Swiss Cheese Appointment Book

Getting Into the Rhythm…
Does your schedule look like swiss cheese?  Holes, all over the place. There is nothing more frustrating to look a full schedule for tomorrow, only to find three one hour cancellations by 9:30am the next day!  Has this ever happened to you? Sure it has, or you haven’t been in business very long. This is a very common occurrence in medical and dental practices all over the world.

Where’s the money?
Many patients don’t understand that when there are holes in the schedule, the practice absorbs all of the losses of revenue. Running a dental practice is a business, and it does have to make a profit to stay in business.   The costs of the business continue, regardless of whether the patients show up for scheduled appointments or not. The team continues to get paid, someone has to answer the phone, lease on the building, electricity …. You know what I’m talking about; ALL the OVERHEAD.

How much does it REALLY hurt?
It’s quite obvious…..late notice cancellations and no shows are NOT GOOD FOR BUSINESS; it cuts into profits, and sometimes it cuts into an entire day’s profits! It’s no longer an appointment that can be filled. Do you know how much it costs you to keep your door open every hour? How much does it cost you to have your hygienist for an 8 hour day? How much does it cost you (hourly) to have a chair without a warm body in it? The answers to these questions will help you to quantify really how much it costs the business when 3 hygiene patients don’t show up and 2 general dentistry patients cancel. This exercise is usually just enough to change the mindset about how this issue of holes in the schedule is resolved.
So…..who’s going to take the blame?
How many times have you heard one of your team members say in response to a late notice cancelation that “it’s o.k….dont worry about it”, or “it’s not a problem”.   P O E Y !!!  It IS a problem.  The first thing that has to be done in order to MINIMIZE these NO SHOWS and LATE NOTICE CONCELLATIONS is to admit that there IS a problem!  When this happens, do you: 1. Get angry at your patient? 2. Get angry and frustrated with your staff? Or…. 3. Look in the mirror and take the blame; take responsibility for the results you’re getting in your practice are ultimately your responsibility. If you answered #3… great! It’s the first step in an effort to stop this nonsense.
You’re probably thinking….”how can I control what other people do”? Well, you can’t. But, you can control how you respond to the undesirable behavior. Look, I understand that there are those circumstances when patients just can’t make it; life is just that way!  But if we can communicate to our patients that we are reserving this time for them, and that we are committed to being here for them and respecting their time, then we shouldn’t have any problem with asking them to respect our time as well. 

Framing the appointment time with a mindset…. that we are your partners in your dental care and this relationship is going to last a very long time.
To charge or not to charge….
Some practices charge patients for missing their appointment time! If you are going to build a “values based practice” and charge patients $40 for missing their appointment or even “threaten” to charge the patient $40…… you are going to struggle. This kind of “slap in the face” tactic is good for the patients you are trying to FIRE!   It is reserved for businesses that don’t rely on relationships! Think about it; would tell your friend that you’re going to charge them $40 for missing a lunch appointment that you had scheduled 2 days previously? NO…you would call them up and make sure they were ok, you would be concerned that something may have happened to them (a car accident or something worse). And when you finally spoke with them, you’d breathe a sigh of relief that they ARE indeed OK.  It would make them feel good to know that you were concerned about them. And then you’d say…please don’t do that to me again!   In addition, as soon as they were running late for the lunch appointment, you would have picked up the phone and started trying to reach them. This is the MINDSET and CULTURE you must have if you’re going to build a values-based, relationship based professional practice!

My belief is that most people that forget their appointment or choose to reschedule with little notice because something “more important” has come up: a meeting, a lunch with a friend, or they (or a kid) got sick….it happens. But it requires them to choose between one or the other. They have to choose between which one is more of a priority, or more important.  So, what do we have to do in order to make the dentist appointment the most important activity of their day?
  • 1.       Create a perception of scarcity in our schedule.
  • 2.       Create the perception that “it’s a privilege” to be a patient in your practice.
  • 3.       Create more value for these patients that seek your care; under-promise and over-deliver.
  • 4.       Don’t let the schedule run your practice; you control the schedule (have integrity with your time).
  • 5.       Create a CULTURE of SERVICE….serve your patients. Don’t just treat them. Continue to tell them how much you appreciate them.
  • 6.       DON’T EVER leave patients to wonder if they have been forgotten. If you’re running late, call them. Always communicate with them if you’re running behind.

So, it’s the job of the LEADER (owner) of the practice to create a CULTURE in the practice that empowers the team to purposefully and dialogically communicate to those that we serve.   If a patient misses an appointment and doesn’t call to reschedule, consider it an opportunity to deepen the relationships and rebuild rapport with that patient; they have entrusted their care to us.  We MUST communicate that to them that it’s NOT “ok” to not show up or call for a scheduled appointment.  

What words are you using when patients cancel without much notice? Please comment and let me know your thoughts.