Last updated on April 26th, 2023 at 03:24 pm
In conversations with dentists and/or their office managers, it’s not uncommon for me to hear something like this regarding new patient scheduling:
“We did some new patient marketing, got a lot of phone calls and appointments…but hardly any of them showed up!”
The usual “culprit” behind this abysmal no-show rate: “the marketing”
And the general assumption? “The Marketing” is attracting “low-quality” new patients.
Now…while it’s absolutely possible to mis-target marketing (i.e. marketing implants to college students, etc.), I have yet to find marketing that attracts “low-quality” patients. For that matter, when I’ve heard this, I’ve asked people time to time to define a “low quality” new patient. And the definitions differ. There’s no consensus. And for that reason, I’m not a big fan of the term. More often than not, it’s used, along with the term “low Dental IQ” as cop-out to explain a marketing or treatment presentation failure. And the big joke of the marketing “failure?” In many cases it ISN’T the marketing. It’s what happens when patients call your office!
Our friends at Viva Concepts did an exhaustive study on this subject. Their findings? The average dentist “converts” approximately 25% of their new patient phone calls into actual new patients. Yeah…out of a 100 calls only 23 actually show up as a new patient. Let that sink in.
With that mind, I wanted to provide you with a few tips that might help you raise this percentage and improve your show-rate with new patients.
(To really master this subject and get more new patients on your schedule, attend the MGE New Patient Workshop. It’s held virtually with many dates to choose from – click here to view upcoming dates and times.)
Good things come to those who wait…NOT.
First thing you want to burn into your mind about new patient scheduling:
The longer the patient waits for an appointment, the less likely they are to show up.
I would estimate that a new patient who calls and gets scheduled for the same day or the next day shows up about 90% of the time. Whereas a new patient scheduled 2-3 weeks out is going to show up about 20-30% of the time.
Obviously, this varies from office to office, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.
People oftentimes wait years to muster the courage to call a dental office, and that braveness is fleeting. If you don’t get them in while they’re being brave, they’ll lose heart and find an excuse not to come. Or, if they are calling because they currently have a issue with their mouth (pain, etc.), they’ll find someone that can see them sooner.
So, what does this tell you?
MAKE ROOM IN YOUR SCHEDULE TO SEE NEW PATIENTS WITHIN 24-48 HOURS!
Seeing new patients within 24-48 hours
I’m not just talking about emergency patients, I’m talking about ALL new patients. I know this isn’t always easy, but you’ve got to have slots open in your schedule for this.
If you aren’t able to do this, then you need a better scheduling system or you need to fix some organizational issues. You can improve your scheduling systems with our online course, The Scheduling Coordinator Training Course.
What if the patient wants to schedule one, two, or three weeks out?
Here’s where the skill of your front desk comes in. If they’re asking for an appointment a week or two out, the front desk must get them scheduled sooner.
Usually this is just a matter of telling the patient “Actually I have an opening today at 1:00 or tomorrow at 9:00am,” and then the patient will say “Okay.”
Or if they still put up a little resistance, talk a little more and make sure it’s clear that the reason you’re asking them is because you care, e.g. “Let’s not wait till after the weekend. These things are best handled quickly and I’d hate for it to get worse. We can give you a doctor’s note if you need it for work.” Or something similar.
It’s usually not necessary to be this blunt, but I’ve seen very good front office staff say things like this when appropriate: “We’ve been doing this for 30 years, and Dr. Smith knows the best way to get you healthy and save you the most trouble is to get you to come in right away.”
Occasionally the patient has a good reason for waiting a week or two. It’s rare, but it happens sometimes. If that’s the case then fine, schedule them a week or two out and make sure you confirm them over the phone as well as text/email as the appointment approaches.
Attitude when scheduling patients
A good general guideline when scheduling patients is not to ask, but to tell.
Always be very kind and polite, but also be direct and insistent.
You’re not asking patients, you’re directing them. Avoid questions like “When would you like come in?” or “Would it be okay with you if…?” Etc. This isn’t a have-it-your-way type of conversation. We’re not asking if they want pickles with their burger. You’re attitude should be more like “Look, we’re a doctor’s office and we know what the patient needs to do to get healthy. So do this.” (Don’t literally say that to the patient, but have that attitude.)
The right thing to say when scheduling a patient is “We can get you in at 8:30 tomorrow morning. Does that work? Great, I’ll see you then!”
Confirmations aren’t as critical for patients scheduled to be seen within 24 hours, but I did want to mention something on the subject.
It’s fine and well to use automated texts, emails, etc, to confirm patients and you should, but it’s not a substitute for a live person calling the patient on the phone and confirming them. This may seem like too much trouble if you have a small number of staff, but trust me it’s worth it.
Note: some consultants recommend the doctor calling all the new patients personally the day before their initial visit. The logic behind this is sound (the patient being less likely to disregard the doctor than a staff member), and it can be a good idea. In my experience, however, I haven’t found that it’s absolutely necessary. If the doctor is slammed with production, then it’s fine to have a staff member make the calls, just ensure that this staff member is a people person and isn’t afraid to make a lot of calls and talk to strangers.
And again, not to beat a dead horse too much, but you’re not asking, you’re telling.
If you call and ask the patient if they are coming, this makes it seem like it’s okay not to show up to the appointment. After all, the doctor couldn’t have really expected me to show up if they’re asking whether or not I’m going to, right? I guess this is a pretty casual appointment…
So don’t call and ask to see if they’re still coming.
Simply tell them you’re confirming the appointment. Something like:
“Hi Mary! This is your confirmation call from Smile Family Dentistry. We’re really looking forward to seeing your tomorrow at 9!”
If they have a legitimate reason to cancel their appointment, they’ll bring it up. If their reason for cancelling/no-showing wasn’t valid, then they think “Oh well, I’m confirmed now so I’d better show up.”
Don’t charge a cancellation fee.
I don’t recommend charging a cancellation fee. This is generally just a way to upset patients. Even if the patient wouldn’t have cancelled in the first place, it’s a little offensive. It’s not worth it, especially for new patients’ initial visits.
If you want, when you schedule the patient you can simply inform them that you don’t accept cancellations. This will at least make them think twice before cancelling/no-showing for a petty reason.
I hope this helps you get more patients to show up!