Your schedule is the key to achieving a better life, so it’s incredibly frustrating when patients cancel and you’re left with nothing but a schedule full of holes. Predictability leads to profitability, but how are you supposed to bring profitability to your practice when everything is unpredictable? The problem is bigger than the patient not showing up—it’s about the loss of that time you’d set aside specifically for them. I like to say that “Time is the new rich,” and the people who have the ability to control their time are the richest people in the world. If you want to take control of your time, you need to treat the cause of the problem, not the symptoms, and the best way to do that is by changing your mindset and creating systems.
Change Your Mindset
Whenever I work with a client on scheduling, I remind them of these three rules:
- Your schedule is the number one secret to a better life. It’s yours, so do it your way. If you want to give yourself more time with your family, your schedule is the way to make that happen.
- Schedule today and tomorrow first. Before you start booking weeks out, think about the next two to three days.
- Patients fit into your schedule, not vice-versa. When you try to fit into other people’s schedules, you devalue yourself. Eliminate phrases like “Would you like to?” and “What time works best for you?”
Dentistry is one of the most important professions out there, and that makes you important. I say it all the time, but “Money spent on dentistry is one of the best investments a person can make.” The value it brings to your patients’ lives is incredible, and you make that happen. Value what you do, because when you undervalue it, people undervalue who you are. When that happens, you end up going home fried at the expense of others. Dentists have the heart of a servant, but you can’t give too much at the expense of yourself.
Choose Your Words
You need to build value for the patient as well, and that comes down to your verbal skills. The words you use matter, so choose the ones that will help you demonstrate the value of keeping the appointment. Never use the phrase “If you need to cancel,” because that’s nothing more than an invitation for cancellation. Instead work on building and strengthening your relationships with your patients, because people don’t cancel on their friends—they show up and respect them. It’s the person they don’t know that they feel comfortable cancelling on. You can choose to run a transactional office where the patients merely exchange money for services, or you can choose to be relational and build systems that create relationships and foster trust with your patients. The free ACT Mastering Verbal Skills Webinar series is a great resource to take your verbal skills to the next level.
What can you implement in your practice to help prevent your schedule from falling apart? There are many different options, but some of my favorites are:
- Use a Reason For Return. Include something personal in the patient notes that gives your team something to bring up in conversation. It’s much more powerful when instead of telling the patient they need to come back for cleaning, you can mention their upcoming wedding and how a tooth cleaning will be helpful.
- Make it difficult to cancel. When patients provide an obstacle for canceling, offer solutions. Don’t have a ride? Offer to call them an Uber or a taxi! Use cancellation fees to motivate patients to keep their appointments, but only as a threat—never actually charge them. It’s never worth it to charge, but by bringing it up you can often get the patient to show.
- Don’t take cancellations or changes via answering machine or SMS. Don’t let people hide behind a message when they want to cancel—they need to cancel to your face. When you leave a message or send a reminder, include a line about calling back during the day if they need to make a change.
- Schedule hygiene appointments six months and two weeks out. Those two extra weeks help you open up more space and prevent you from stacking patients on top of each other. That space will let you pay more attention to your schedule with enough time to fix any problems that may come up.
- Call two weeks prior to appointments. When you call two weeks in advance, it allows you to protect your schedule and make sure people are committed to showing up. You can’t do that in 48 hours.
- Code your patients. When you categorize your patients into A, B, and C patients, it helps you make decisions based on their behaviors. Start adding Late, No-Show, and Cancel codes to the patient files so you can gather data on how many times a patient makes a change to the schedule. You want to build a practice full of patients who share your core values, so focus your efforts on these A patients and less on the C patients who are unreliable. 80% of your production and profits come from your A patients, and 80% of your problems come from your C patients. You’re not required by law to see every patient, so you can choose who to see.
Our actions can only be as good as the data we have to back them up, so make sure your team takes good notes.
I’ve heard it said that the second-most important person in your life, after your spouse, is the person who organizes your time. They’re even more important than your kids because they let you see your kids. At the end of the day, our motto of a Better Practice and a Better Life is about time—time to spend with your friends, family, or even by yourself, doing what makes you happy. There’s no faster way to a better life than a better schedule at work, so reach out to the ACT coaches today. They are experts at helping you make your practice predictable, profitable, and productive. Once you’ve achieved a Better Practice, a Better Life is close behind!
Kirk Behrendt is the CEO and Founder of ACT Dental