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Each dental practice’s Front Desk needs to remember they have the power when it comes to no shows, cancellations, and rescheduling missed appointments. You’ve got to constantly communicate value for that appointment!


Patients often try to make you dance to their tune in a couple of ways. One is demanding a specific appointment day and time. Another is cancelling or missing her or his scheduled appointment with the expectation that you will reschedule the appointment at their convenience in the next few days. If you make it easy on them, many will develop a bad habit and repeatedly no show, cancel, or try to reschedule on short notice.

Creating value for each block of time is the first thing that needs to happen. If the patient has clearly received the message that your appointments are limited at the time that the appointment is scheduled, it is much easier to transfer power back to yourself at the Front Desk at the time the patient is a no show, cancels, or attempt to reschedule.


Step 1: Communicate scarcity.

Let it be known that your dental appointments are limited. The front desk needs to make it sound as if there are 30 other people who want that exact time. It's a fact there are lots of people who need to have their teeth cleaned. You might say, “If I give you this four o'clock with Sue on a Thursday afternoon, I have to tell you that I have a lot of people that would like to have it. Let's make sure it works for your schedule.”

If the patient says he or she doesn’t know their schedule, don't do what many practices do. Don't tell them they will get a reminder of their appointment time and they can change it. If you do, you are giving the patient permission to break the appointment. You don't want a patient to think it is okay to reschedule and develop a habit of unreliability. Say, “How about I call you back tomorrow and we schedule you then. I don’t want to give away an appointment time that you might not be able to use. There are lots of patients needing to get in soon.”


Step 2: Don’t make rescheduling too easy.

Shown concern when appointments are broken, but don’t make it easy to reschedule. 

When a patient calls to cancel or if you're calling a patient who did not show up, ask the patient if they are having an emergency. Show concern with “Is everything okay?” You are empathetically reaching out to the patient, but this doesn’t mean you will make it easy for the patient to reschedule. 

For example, if the patient wants to reschedule to a late-afternoon appointment, say something like this: "I'm sorry. I'm going to have to put you on a short call list for that popular time. Should the doctor have a change in his schedule at four o'clock, we'll give you a call for that time.”


Step 3: Use expectation messaging.

Patients are adults. They should not need reminders with the implied message they can cancel and reschedule. When you use words like “appointment reminder” or “this message is to confirm,” the patient may think they are free to change their appointment time. A successful confirmation message contains words like “We are looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at _____. Call if you have any questions about that appointment.” Best yet, the message takes the form of a phone call in which the Front Desk speaks directly with the patient and lets the patient know everyone is looking forward to that special time that has been set aside for them.


Reducing Schedule Frustrations Is a Process

Message consistency is key. When we consistently use words with patients that reflect the value we place on our schedule and that we have a scarcity of appointments, we influence patients’ attitudes. This may take time and transitional behavior but the result will be a reduction in the number of no shows and cancellations and a happier, more prosperous dental practice.

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