Preventing Patient No-Shows

As a dental student, there’s nothing worse than a no-show! You’ve wasted your time scheduling the appointment, reserving the chair, reviewing the patient’s file, reviewing steps for the procedure, and setting up your chair and instruments! Time is a hot commodity in dental school. Continue reading to learn how to protect your precious time and ensure patients keep their appointments!

Before: No-Show’s Galore

Before implementing this strategy, I consistently had AT LEAST one no-show a week. It was a frustrating time; I wondered how I would ever fulfill my graduation requirements! Finally, I got wise and channeled my frustration into action. I created a no-fail strategy to prevent patient no-shows.

After: The No-Fail Strategy

This schedule can be adapted to your school’s policy for patient communication. Be sure to follow your school’s policies! Most students at my school either called or texted their patients.

  1. Contact your patient with 2-3 possible appointment times. Let them select the appointment that works best with their schedule.
  2. Each Sunday, contact every patient you have scheduled for the upcoming week. I usually did this via text message:

“Hi Mr. Smith, Just a friendly reminder that your appointment is this Tuesday at 1 PM. If you cannot make this appointment, please let me know ASAP. The school policy requires me inactivate patients after 3 failed appointments. I look forward to seeing you soon. Thanks!”

3. Contact each patient the day before his/her appointment. I usually did this via text message:

“Hi Mr. Smith, Just a friendly reminder that your appointment is tomorrow at 1 PM. If you cannot make this appointment, please let me know ASAP. The school policy requires me to inactivate patients after 3 failed appointments. I look forward to seeing you soon. Thanks!”

Additional Advice

You may be able to prevent some (certainly not all) no-shows by building strong relationships with your patients. If a patient genuinely enjoys seeing you, you put them at ease, or the patient feels you are a gifted practitioner, he/she will be less likely to fail their appointment.

My final advice may sound harsh, but you will be hard-pressed for time to complete all of your graduation requirements. You cannot afford to waste your time on unreliable patients! If you have a borderline “flaky” patient (i.e., they have missed one or two appointments, or they are consistently late), prioritize them last as you create your schedule (unless they have a dental emergency). Better yet, see if you can co-therapy or transfer the patient to a junior, who may have more time on their hands. Finally, immediately remove “flaky” patients from your rolodex to make room for more reliable patients. Be sure to follow your school’s guidelines!

What strategies do you use to prevent no-shows? Comment below!


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