Confession time. My daughter recently missed a dental appointment. Okay, okay. It might have been my fault. Life was busy. I knew that she was due for an appointment, but time got away from me and I forgot. It’s now been over two months since that missed appointment and nothing. Why did I keep putting it off? Honestly, my schedule has been overflowing, my daughter is super nervous at the dentist (not very fun to take in!), and having missing an appointment made it all seem worse. I’ve been worried that the office would be upset with me—and rightfully so. I know that it was irresponsible to miss an appointment. So instead of just making her a new appointment, I skipped it.
Here’s the deal. Life happens. Sometimes patients are just the worst (guilty here!). We miss appointments, show up late, or forget to pay. And yet, you can’t live without us. Patients are the glue that hold a practice together.
That being said, there is a secret weapon you can use to reduce poor patient behavior like mine.
Did you know that 90 percent of people read text messages within minutes of receiving them? Ninety percent! That’s pretty much everyone. Sending appointment reminders through text message virtually guarantees your patients will see your message—and quickly.
How can you take advantage of the benefits appointment reminders can give you? Start by using the following guidelines and then tweaking them to fit your personal practice.
1. Pre-scheduled appointments. Many patients find it easiest to schedule their next appointment right in the office. While this is great, it also means that these appointments are often far into the future and easily forgotten. Make sure you send reminder messages more than a week before these pre-scheduled appointments take place. That way, patients can check their calendar and make sure they don't have any conflicts.
2. Send reminders before your cancellation fee kicks in. When sending patient reminders, always think about your own cancellation policy. If your policy states that patients must cancel 24 hours (or more) in advance in order to avoid a fee, make sure you send out your reminder messages before that time. No need to make patients who have forgotten about a scheduled appointment cranky when they see it's too late to cancel.
3. Find the magic number. You want to make sure you send enough appointment reminders that the patient actually shows up, but not so many that they feel overwhelmed. I recently received a phone call, two emails, a text, and a postcard all within a 24 hour period from a doctor. Wow. It was just way too much. While that may be the extreme, you also don't want to send out a message a week beforehand and hope they show up. Start with sending 2-3 messages and play with it from there. You can also send out a survey to your patients to see how often (and when) they would like to receive reminders. And remember, you may want to send a different number of messages to different patients or for different treatment types.
One last note. When sending out text messages, think about the tone of what you send. Last week, I received a quick text from my dentist. This is its exact message: “We missed you but still want your teeth to shine. Let’s get that appointment rescheduled. No questions asked. :)” The text included a way I could set up an appointment right then.
I almost laughed. It was like they had read my mind and knew that I felt sheepish about missing the appointment. It was the exact message I needed at exactly the right time.
Guess who recently saw the dentist? My little girl (yup-that's her!). Ahhh...the power of text messages!
P.S. Check out this webinar. It walks you through tons of great ways to connect with patients. It's totally worth your time. :)