I went to a study club yesterday and the subject was how to avoid missed appointments. Listen, I have been in the business a long time and have been around the block a few times. I have seen a lot of things. I have seen practices come and go. I have seen people spend ridiculous amounts of money trying to make their practice better. And one thing I know for sure is there will always be missed appointments in dental offices. So, I am bit cynical when it comes to someone telling me they have an answer to a question that has been asked since G.V. Black was in business.
This study club was the once-a-year opportunity for the dentists to bring their staff, so there were about 60 people (12 dentists) in a packed room all waiting to find the "magic bullet." CareCredit put this thing on, and it was really nice. They had their representative go up there and tell all these front desk people how to alleviate their biggest headache.
She started giving her presentation (she only had 5 or 6 slides), then she opened up the room for discussion. I have to tell you that it was great discussion. I was impressed with the kind of people that were there and their input. But the lasting impression I got was that EVERYONE IS DEALING WITH THE SAME THING. Big practices, small practices, cosmetic practices, restorative practices, family practices: everyone deals with this.
Some practices use Smile Reminder with moderate success. But someone chimed in that emailing and texting gives the patient a way out without talking to someone. Some people confirm a week in advance and then two days in advance. Someone piped up and told us that it is tough for the front desk staff because they used to have a short call list. This was pages and pages of people to call on short notice. Now, with the economy, they don't have this list anymore. There just aren't enough patients anymore. This is exactly how it is in our office.
Someone suggested not allowing people to cancel an appointment on the machine after hours, and if they had to cancel an appointment to call the doctor on his/her cell phone (tried it). Someone suggested that the doctor discuss their failed appointment policy at the new patient exam consultation (tried it). Then there was discussion about charging for missed appointments, how much, after how many misses. (tried it and do it).
Everyone agreed that having a relationship with the patients is the key. But how do you do that? Someone suggested that the doctor confirm the new patient exam appointments, just to let the patient know how personal the office is. But then another doctor countered that the patient/doctor relationship can get too friendly. When the front desk person is trying to put the hammer to someone for being delinquent, the patient just asks to speak to the doctor and we all know the doctor will cave).
Someone suggested punitive scheduling. When someone misses as appointment, don't give them the option of an appointment the next day. Give them an appointment in a month. If a large family misses, you then can't give them appointments all together again.
The moderator went around the room and asked some of the more mature guys if they had any pearls since they had been around a long time. And the doctor would give his best shot at it. I was surprised when he asked me. I wondered if I have any pearls of my maturity in this matter. And I said out loud, "No."
I mean, what could I say? I have done everything that everyone has suggested. There is nothing new under the sun. This is an age-old problem. You can limit it with some policies, but it isn't going away. Everyone has their schtick. Everyone knows all of the above and they make their policies their own but, it isn’t going away.
I thought the study club was great. It made me feel less alone. It made me feel that I am doing the best I can to make my practice get better.
Have I told you I love doing dentistry? I really do (this week – but stick around, this could change). I hope you do, too. I hope this blog makes you feel less alone and makes you like doing dentistry just a little bit more.
Have a great weekend.
P.S. Do you do anything to alleviate missed appointments? Let me know if you have the magic bullets.