The last eighteen months saw numerous disruptions to dental practice operations due to lockdowns. These disruptions had significant impacts on all aspects of dental practices, including appointment scheduling. Planned treatments were postponed, and preventive care cycles became out of sync. Now with patients returning to practices, front desk staff have a difficult task on their hands to manage appointment schedules with great efficiency that maximises patient care, practice revenue, and clinical efficiency.
In this climate, dental practices must take a regimented approach to maximise their appointment utilisation. This approach involves identifying the root causes of poor performance in appointment utilisation. Appointment utilisation performance (or lack thereof) always comes down to three fundamental factors. Understanding those factors and dealing with them correctly automatically increased the appointment utilisation at any practice.
- Failure to Attend (FTA)
- Last-minute/ short notice cancellations
- Not booking appointments in the first place
We should always look at Whitespace (dead space/unused appointments) as a loss in revenue for the practice. For example, suppose a practice has 20% of Whitespace in their appointment book, and the hourly production value of the practice is $400.00 for every full-time clinician (40 hours a week). In that case, the lost revenue through Whitespace will amount to $3200.00 per week.
Failure To Attend (FTA)
Patients that fail to attend their appointments cause an immediate loss of revenue for the practice. While there may be legitimate reasons for no shows, the practice should take note of every single failure to attend so it can identify the patients who habitually fail to attend
Once identified, the habitual FTAs must have alerts in their file prompting the front desk staff to alert such patients of the cancellation fees, ask for a deposit for the appointment or make a double booking if the patient does not show up.
Whether you decide to double book these patients with others so that it does not leave you with Whitespace in your book, decline to take a booking from them altogether, or decline to take a booking unless a deposit is taken from the patient, your practice must have an effective protocol to manage patients who FTA regularly.
Short Notice Cancellations
We know things come up like illness, a change in plans or that a patient simply forgets they have an appointment with you, and this causes a patient to cancel their appointment with you at short notice.
This is when having an updated Standby List can come in handy. If there is enough time, you can get another patient to fill that appointment space in your books.
But sometimes last-minute cancellations come about simply because the patient did not know they had an appointment.
Setting automated appointment reminders, a week before the patient’s appointment and also on the day can help solve this issue but not all patients are created equal. You know your patients best, so work on an automated appointment reminder schedule that fits your patients and for those who need special care, add in a call to check-in and remind them – they’ll appreciate you for it and you’ll keep that whitespace out of your books!
Patients Not Booking Appointments
When a patient is checking out, sometimes they don’t know what they will be doing in the future and do not want commit to an appointment 6 months down the track.
Setting up an automated recall system that works with your practice and your workflows is important to ensure patient retention. By including a link to an online booking service in your recalls, you are making it easier for your patients to book in with you for a time that suits them, when it suits them, 24/7.
By being aware of the contributors of poor appointment utilisation, you can plan and minimise the risk of whitespace in your books and ensure high production value efficiency.
About the Author
Rebecca joined Centaur Software in 2015 and has had many roles throughout the company including Customer Service, eServices Consultant, and is now Product Manager for eServices and Support & Upgrades. With an extensive background in event management, Rebecca assists in running Centaur events and marketing.
Rebecca enjoys spending time with her two Siberian Huskies and can often be found at the local dog park with Luna and Lucy with a camera in hand capturing their adventures.