It’s ironic: 42% of Americans say they don’t see their dentist as often as they would like. Yet many patients who make dental appointments either cancel them at the last minute or don’t show up at all. Whether they’re due to dental phobia, family emergencies or simply forgetfulness, last-minute cancellations and missed appointments hurt your practice in many ways. They cost you money, time that could have been spent helping other patients is wasted.

You can’t eliminate last-minute cancellations altogether, but you can mitigate the damage they do by using the following tactics.

  • Education: Educate patients about the damage that missed appointments cause. Remind your patients that you have set aside this time to take care of their teeth — time that other patients might have used if they knew you weren’t coming. Of course, you should also emphasize the importance of taking care of their teeth and the harm that missed appointments cause to their dental health.
  • Information: Make sure patients know about your missed appointment policy, including any charges you impose. Place signage at your front desk clearly stating your missed appointment policy, such as how many hours in advance cancellations must be made and the fees for missed appointments or last-minute cancellations. Also include this information in your reminder calls, text messages or emails to patients. When they’re fully informed, patients have no excuse for missing an appointment.  
  • Automation: Implement an automated reminder system to help prevent missed appointments. Use software such as Lighthouse 360, which enables you to set automated reminders in motion easily. You can use Lighthouse 360 to customize patient reminder messaging, too. Use email, text, phone or even postcard reminders—whatever each patient prefers. Some 70% of patients prefer providers that offer follow-up reminder messages by email or text, according to Accenture. Varying your communication methods in this way can help ensure that patients don’t miss a reminder. Since the system is automated, your front desk staff doesn’t have to be reminded to send the reminders: simply turn reminders on as soon as an appointment is scheduled or a new treatment is recommended.
  • Accommodation: You can proactively reduce the number of missed appointments by offering same-day treatment to patients. By leaving some wiggle room in your schedule, for example, and keeping your dental supplies well stocked, you can offer to fill a cavity on the spot, reducing the likelihood that a patient won’t return to have it filled. Read more about how to manage scheduling for maximum productivity.

Now that you’ve done all you can to prevent missed appointments, how can you mitigate the damage when they do occur?

  • Bill: If a patient doesn’t show up at the appointed time, be sure to bill them for the missed appointment fee. While this won’t recapture the full amount of lost income, it will help to make up for a bit.
  • Fill: Keep a running list of patients who would like to be apprised of last-minute cancellations. That way, you can quickly spring into action when a patient is a no-show. Save even more time by using a solution such as Lighthouse 360. Lighthouse 360’s Fill-in feature automatically detects last-minute cancellations and finds patients to fill the empty chairs. The software also allows for two-way texting with patients directly from the Lighthouse portal, so your staff can quickly engage with patients who are interested in taking the missed appointment. Currently Fill-in helps dentists fill more than 1,500 empty chairs per week!

If you find the same patients are repeatedly missing their appointments, you may need to take additional steps such as discussing the issue with them in person. In the worst-case scenario, you may need to tell the patient you can no longer serve them.

Want to learn more about how Lighthouse 360 can help you minimize missed appointments and fill cancellations? Take a free demo.