Optimising appointment utilisation to grow your practice

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.

  1. Failure to Attend (FTA)
  2. Last-minute/ short notice cancellations
  3. 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.

Net Patient Gain: The three-word mantra that every practice should know when growing their patient base

When you start out as a new practice, new patients are of absolute importance. Your main focus should be on acquiring quality new patients to grow your patient base and fill up your appointment books. However, dental practices often overlook the necessary change in strategy towards patient retention once they have been operating for a few years. While it is vital to look for new patients through various advertising mediums on a regular basis, it is equally important to nurture and retain your existing patients.

Today’s dental practices spend an average of $200 per patient to acquire new patients, while it only costs them a fraction of that to retain an existing patient. An increase of 5% in patient retention can lead to a staggering 25% increase in practice profit. Most do not realise how expensive patient churn (the number of patients who stop being patients) can become for any business.

In this article, we unpack the concept of Net Patient Gain rather than focusing on new patient or patient retention strategies as they can vary from practice to practice, and there is no “one size fits all” approach. If your practice is a “leaky bucket” for dental patients, first, you need to understand how big the leak is before trying to patch it up.

For this discussion, we use the traditional three six-monthly recall cycle to illustrate patient churn. It is important to note that, nowadays, dental practices tend to tailor their recall strategies and intervals to align with their overall marketing strategy and, therefore, may not necessarily adhere to the traditional recall cycle. However, the concept of patient churn remains true.

If your patient has not returned after 18 months, the harsh reality is that you are likely to have lost that patient. Based on our recall cycle above, the 19th month since the patient’s last visit is when the practice should count them as churned patients.

We often see dental practices religiously tracking their new patients and recall effectiveness. What is surprising is that practices seldom put the two figures together to identify their net patient gain. Without understanding the correlation between these two metrics, they are just metrics on their own, not key performance indicators which are indicative of the growth and performance of the business.

Now that we know a little more about the concept of patient churn and how to calculate it, let’s put all this together to form our Net Patient Gain formula.

Net Patient Gain = New Patients – Churned Patients

If a practice acquired 25 new patients in a month but had 40 patients churning (going inactive) in the same month, their net patient gain would be:

Net Patient Gain = 25-40 = -15

Would you still call this practice a growing practice when it comes to patients? While it would cost the practice $5000 to acquire the 25 new patients at an average of $200 per patient, how much would it cost them to retain 25 of their churning patients to maintain a net patient gain of 0?

Let’s look at another example of two practices (Practice A and B)

If one simply focused on new patients, they might applaud Practice B for a large number of new patients. Yet, if you were looking at overall practice growth, which one is really growing its patient base?

For any practice, new or well-established, there is no question about the utmost importance of new patients. However, Net Patient Gain becomes an even more important statistic to help the practice avoid becoming a “leaky bucket” for dental patients.

We hope the next time you look at your new patient numbers, you also remember to check your net patient gain.

About the Author

Sean joined Centaur Software in 2021 as the Product Manager for Dental4Windows and brings with him 17 years of dental technology experience in both small business and enterprise dental arenas. He holds a Bachelor of Applied Science from RMIT University and a Master of Business Administration from Swinburne University.

Sean is a passionate data analyst who loves everything data.  Outside work, Sean spends all his time doting on his little daughter Amelia.