Imagine this scenario in your practice:
- Patient: “I need to cancel my appointment.”
- You: “I’m sorry, when do you want to reschedule?”
- Patient: “I will call you back.”
- You: “Ok, we will place you on our unscheduled list”
- Patient: “I have a tooth ache.”
- You: “So sorry, when are you available to come in today?”
- Patient: “As soon as I get off work…4:30 PM”
- You: “Ok, we have a full schedule, but we will work you in.”
Sound familiar? It is a common mistake practices make…asking yes/no questions and putting the patient in full control of the schedule. Nothing is more frustrating for a dental office than a patient who dictates the schedule. Even more frustrating is the patient who cancels on short notice or fails the appointment.
The most important aspect of dentistry today is not what you say to patients, but how you say it. I can almost hear your silent screams now!
There is a definite connection between receiving the phone call and dealing with the frustrations of a cancellation.
Remembering NOT to ask yes/no questions and ALWAYS offering two options to reschedule the canceled/failed appointment is crucial. Additionally, never ever offer the very next available appointment. If you want to re-train the patient, offer an appointment 4-6 weeks out. Then, offer to place them on the priority list to offer them an appointment sooner if one comes available. This helps patients realize appointments aren’t easily available and they may not cancel original appointment because it is too inconvenient.
Emergency calls can create an additional level of stress unless careful consideration is paid to the planning process—in other words, pre-block the schedule to offer available emergency appointment times. Once a patient calls with an emergency, they have a sense of urgency in being seen that day. Always ask patient, “How soon can you get to the office?” If the response is “As soon as I get off work," it is not a true emergency.
Let them now, you would absolutely love to offer them the first available 4:30 time…six weeks from today or eight weeks from next Thursday. Or…offer them an appointment today at 10:30 or 1:00…mid morning and first appointment in afternoon are best times.
The important thing to remember in the “art of communication” is to speak to patients and the way you would want them to speak to you. Remember never ask yes/no questions and always offer two solutions.
Designing a good back up plan when plan A fails will save the sanity in a practice.
- Always have a plan A.
- Always have a good back up plan
- Create fool proof priority lists
- Use effective communication skills
To learn more about how to foster strong communication with patients, check out our free guide, "30 Awesome Patient Communication Tips from Practices Like Yours."