Are you bringing in dozens of new patients each month and still don’t have a full hygiene schedule? With that type of patient volume, what gives? You should have more than enough patients to maintain a packed calendar.
The problem is not that you lack patients. It seems that your marketing efforts to bring in new patients are spot on. You are probably providing quality care to generate referrals from happy patients. Instead, it sounds like your current patients are not returning as regularly as they should. Your recall strategy could use a boost.
Your Recall Makeover
1. Let your hygienist personally schedule cleanings six months out.
Hygienists have more success with pre-appointing patients than the scheduling coordinator at checkout. By the time a patient reaches the checkout counter, all they want to do is leave. They are now thinking about the rest of their day, not their next cleaning. Many will dismiss any attempt to schedule with the usual, “You guys are pretty good about reminding me when it’s time.”
It’s more efficient to bring it up when the patient is in the chair. The hygienist can say, “While we are waiting for the doctor to come in, let’s go ahead and set up your next appointment. Does this time typically work for you?” This language suggests it is the standard process and is more likely to command compliance. If the patient agrees, the hygienist can say, “Great, let’s get you scheduled for this same time on Wednesday, April 12th.” Reciting the date and time out loud helps the patient make a mental note to remember.
The verbal skills that the scheduler uses may strongly influence a patient’s decision to schedule. If they resist and say they have no idea what they’ll be doing in six months, the hygienist may say something like, “Don’t worry, once we set this up, you can always change it as it gets closer to date. We’ll send you a reminder a few weeks before, and you can reschedule if necessary.” You may add, “Most of our patients prefer to schedule in advance. That way, they can pick from the most convenient times and they don’t miss out on their insurance benefits that allow them two cleanings a year.”
Aim to schedule at least 75% of your patients in advance. Make an agreement with your team and hold everyone accountable for keeping this up. Check your numbers frequently. Remember, what gets measured improves.
2. Do not pre-schedule habitual appointment breakers.
Patients who cannot keep appointments should not be given the privilege of reserving time on your schedule. If you have someone in your chair who is prone to cancel last minute, you might say,”I know you have a hectic schedule so please make sure to call us right away when you get a reminder from our office in six months as our schedule fills quickly.”
3. Create a custom recall frequency for each patient.
A hygiene cleaning every six months is taken as the golden rule, but at least a third of your patients could benefit from more frequent cleanings. Your hygienist should be able to recommend the best recall frequency to suit patient needs.
Help your patients understand why more frequent cleanings are critical. One good way to explain this is to say, “You are doing a great job brushing. There is little plaque above the gums, but you do have some deeper pockets around your back teeth (show them) and would benefit from coming in more frequently so we can clean them out for you. It’s impossible to reach to the bottom of these 4mm pockets with only brushing and flossing, and bacteria collects there causing you to lose bone around your teeth.” Take each patient’s individual needs into consideration to determine how often they should return.
4. Send recall reminders via different communication channels.
Does your office typically send mass recall emails? Or maybe you always mail out post cards three weeks before their due date. These are both good methods, but you need to take it a step further. No one method is the best way to reach all of your patients. You need to adopt text message, email and postcard reminders in your recall strategy to cater to individual patient communication preferences. Patients are more likely to respond when you reach out to them in a way they prefer to be contacted. Younger patients might prefer a text reminder while your older patients will enjoy receiving a postcard from you.
Two-way text communication also allows your patients to respond back to you and schedule via text. You might consider sending same day text blasts to announce last minute availability of your most popular appointment times.
5. Automation is great, but you need to make more phone calls.
Give your team a goal of how many calls they should be making each day or week. No matter how many automated reminders you send, there will still be patients who do not confirm.
Some patients require a personal call. You need to reach them directly to find out why they are not confirming. Perhaps they are nervous, have an outstanding balance or their dental health is simply not a priority. Whatever it is, you’ll never know unless you get in touch with them. It’s easier for them to avoid an automated message than a personal phone call. Do not leave a voicemail and cross them off your list if they don’t answer. Continue to reach out until you get them on the phone.
6. Call patients who are “hot.”
Many patients who recently received your text, email or postcard reminder plan to call your office and schedule an appointment but simply forget to do it. If you give them a call, more often than not you’ll hear, “Thank you so much for calling me. I’ve been meaning to schedule an appointment.”
If you use YAPI, you can filter your recall list to just show the patients who recently received an electronic communication from your office and didn’t schedule.
7. Master the verbal skills to overcome patient objections.
Your words hold more power than you may realize in influencing the actions of your patients. Practice management consultant, Sandy Pardue, emphasizes how important it is to take control of conversations with patients. Strong verbal skills are essential to your success in getting patients to appoint and to show up on time.
Dr. Gina Dorfman completed her dental training at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry in 2000 and shortly after she started her own practice near Los Angeles. Her passion for creating systems and leveraging technology to streamline practice operations is what eventually led her to co-found YAPI. Today, among practicing dentistry, she is a published author, a motivational speaker, and a frequent contributor to the many articles found on our blog!