Building the perfect dental schedule is the dream of every dentist and their team. The optimal schedule ensures that your practice is profitable and growing and that your team members are busy and productive. However, if your office has an erratic schedule that goes from chaos to crickets, it could be a sign that you have not addressed specific barriers that prevent patients from making—and keeping—their appointments.
Indeed, successful dental practices have optimal schedules because they know how to fill a dental clinic calendar by removing common patient scheduling challenges such as:
- Putting patients on hold who call to book an appointment
- Forgetting to address insurance before fully booking the appointment
- Pre-booking patients far out in advance, with no automated reminders
- Forgetting to address and setup financial expectations
Online scheduling and automation can effectively address the most common issues that prevent your practice from optimizing its appointment book. Once your scheduling coordinator learns how to fill your dental clinic calendar effectively, you can avoid scrambling at the last minute to address schedule gaps, reduce wasted time spent on appointment prep, and increase your chances of reaching production goals.
✅ Make Online Scheduling Available Across Different Platforms
Recent research found that 51% of millennials surveyed said that “figuring out how to fit a medical appointment into their schedule is their biggest challenge.” And this problem isn’t just for the younger generations. Some older patients find it difficult to schedule the dentist, among other medical appointments.
Online booking gives patients the freedom to book their dental appointments online when and where it’s convenient for them. In fact, 90% of millennials book medical appointments on desktop or mobile. Having easy access to online booking also means patients can avoid being put on hold if they call to book when your front office is slammed.
Offering online scheduling also means that your practice is “open” 24/7, making you stand out. Indeed, if patients find your dental practice online and want to book after looking at all your great reviews but can’t find a booking link, they will likely move to the next dentist on their list.
With online booking platforms such as YAPI Smart Scheduling, you can share a unique online booking link on your website, social media profiles, or online review listings, for easy access to your clinic calendar. For more on attracting patients with online scheduling, check out this post.
✅ Pre-qualify Patients by Asking for Insurance
For some patients in your practice, their first conversation with your office will be a call about what types of insurance you take. Usually, that conversation would immediately qualify or disqualify the patient from booking an appointment with the practice. However, patients and the front office tend to forget to address insurance, especially if the patient does not bring it up. Ideally, your office accepts their insurance, and everything is excellent. But in some cases, the scheduling coordinator has to break the news that a patient’s insurance isn’t accepted, potentially resulting in an immediate cancellation or a lengthy and awkward conversation about payment at the end of their appointment. Not a great way to start (or end) a patient relationship!
Instead, be transparent from the start about what insurance you do (and don’t) accept. With some online scheduling systems, you can pre-qualify patients by making it a requirement that they submit their insurance information before fully booking their appointment. Smart Scheduling by YAPI allows you to even request photos of patients’ insurance cards. By verifying insurance upfront, you avoid negative patient experiences—and reviews—and you can avoid last-minute cancellations that throw your schedule off-kilter.
✅ Automate Appointment Reminders and Recall
Last-minute cancellations are inevitable in dentistry, but that doesn’t mean you do nothing. Instead, you can reduce them by automating recall and last-minute scheduling. Research shows a 29% reduction in no-shows when using automated reminders.
If you have a scheduling coordinator on staff, train them to confirm every appointment two days out. Patients lead busy lives and may not remember they pre-booked an appointment six months ago. With automated appointment reminders, your team can alert patients about their upcoming appointment and give them any additional information. Another way to mitigate cancellations is to limit the number of pre-bookings, which also leaves room on the calendar for new patients.
However, should you get a cancellation, mass texting features, such as YAPI’s Smart Fill, allow you to text patients on your ASAP list, letting them know that there’s an opening in your schedule for their cleaning or annual exam. Taking time to send personalized messages with patients’ preferred appointment times is a great way to show them you care and are thinking of them. And of course, follow these tips to ensure you’re HIPAA compliant while texting.
Dental practices can also automate outreach to patients on their past-due list. Software systems such as YAPI integrate with your practice management software, making it easy to access the recall list and send texts to those patients.
✅ Proactively Address Financial Concerns
According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 30% of Americans said they put off medical treatment due to cost. It’s no wonder that patients who are past due or have an outstanding balance are more likely to break their appointments.
Dental practices can mitigate this issue by making clear financial arrangements with existing patients before scheduling another appointment. In some cases, patients may need the flexibility to pay for dental procedures if their insurance doesn’t cover the total amount or they don’t have enough cash to pay out of pocket. Discussing costs upfront and offering financing options can also ensure patients don’t decide at the last minute that their dental treatment doesn’t fit into their weekly or monthly budget.
Another option is allowing patients to prepay, thus committing themselves to their appointments. Your practice could offer a small discount to encourage this behavior, making it a win-win option for the patients and your dental team.
While there will always be unpredictable schedule changes, knowing how to fill a dental clinic calendar by addressing common patient issues will help your office be more efficient and productive.