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I’m asked this question a lot by the dental office managers and owners that I meet and my answer may surprise you.

First, let me emphasize how important it is to make sure that all your patients leave your office with their next appointment scheduled. This is more than a preference—it should be your office policy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s their next restorative appointment in two weeks or their next preventative appointment in six months; it needs to be in the system before the patient walks out the door.

There are 3 Reasons Each Patient Must Leave with an Appointment

  1. The schedule will be full and you can better predict your schedule in the future. The more you put patients in the schedule in advance, the more you can determine how full the schedule will be and what needs to be done by your team to get that schedule full when that day gets closer.
  1. Scheduling at the end of a visit demonstrates that your priority is the patient’s dental health. You can tell the patient that their dental health is your number one priority and therefore you want to make sure they have their next appointment scheduled before they leave. This is so much more effective than telling them they can call you in six months when they are due for another visit.  We should always demonstrate to patients that we value their health and prebooking will ensure that they are going to maintain their dental health.
  1. Which will be easier—tracking down a patient that has an appointment scheduled to confirm them or trying to locate a patient that does not have an appointment already scheduled? Our experience shows that patients are likely to call you back if you leave a message asking them to confirm their appointment time, especially if they want to change the time to something that works better for them. On the other hand, if they didn’t have anything scheduled and you are calling to remind them that they need to schedule a dental appointment, they are unlikely to call back quickly or at all.

That being said, once in a while it will happen that patients fall through the cracks without scheduling their next appointment or by cancelling their appointment and not rescheduling.  Sometimes a patient will have an emergency and have to cancel. Or, maybe someone that did not know for sure if they would still be living in the same town in 6 months and decided not to schedule until they knew.  For whatever reason, these patients are not scheduled, and we need to get them back in.

Who is going to make sure that happens?  Do you think that our patients wake up one day and think, “Hmmm, it seems like it has been six months since my teeth were cleaned last… I’d better call to schedule my next appointment.”  No—not very likely.  It is our job to reach out to our patients regularly and get them back into the schedule if they are coming due.

Then, how long do you keep trying to reactivate patients. First, I want to offer a couple of suggestions on how to address this process.  First, you need to use multiple forms of communication to do this, because everyone likes to receive communications differently.  In my office, we call our overdue recare patients at least one time per month, and we use Revenuewell to email or text them once a month at minimum.  I like having email/text message backup, as most of the time the patients don’t answer the phone when we call, but they do respond to emails—usually at night when we are closed—to get their appointment scheduled.

So, how long do you keep calling them to reschedule?  At what point do you stop calling them? I think that as dental professionals, we assume that after a certain period of time we should stop calling our patients because they have probably gone to another dentist by now. But, I have to tell you that most of the time, when patients disappear, they have not gone anywhere else.  They have just not gone anywhere at all. The reality is the dentist is not their favorite place to visit, and most of the time, life happens so fast that they don’t realize how long it has been since they have been in for a visit. This is why it is vital that we continue to try to get them back in.

My answer to the question of how long to keep calling: Don’t stop calling them until one of these things happens:

  • They tell you to stop calling them
  • They tell you they are going to another dentist or have moved out of the area
  • They pass away

Let me give you an example of what I mean. We had a new patient in our office recently and we asked him how he heard about our office. He said that he was referred by his co-worker, who told him that we were his dental office and that we were awesome. This new patient called us based on this great recommendation. We looked up his co-worker in our system and it turns out that the co-worker has not actually been to our office in over five years! It’s been that long since the co-worker set foot in our office, yet he is still referring others and telling them that we are his dentist.

Bottom line – recognize that no one else is reminding patients of the importance of good dental maintenance. It’s up to our regular calls and emails to get them scheduled for the dental work they need.

 

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