The one-day rule for late patients

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Author’s note: Levin Group has reviewed and prioritized hundreds of strategies to increase practice production. Each month, we highlight a powerful idea in order of priority.


It has been well established and fits into one of the best opportunities to increase practice output that patients who are behind (i.e. every dentist. Or, from a more positive perspective, have a great system for monitoring and scheduling overdue patients will add $1 million or more over the course of every dentist’s career.

This is the challenge that most practices face. When things feel busy, the team usually overlooks late patients until they notice a lot of free time or a slowdown in production. By not keeping all patients scheduled for their next appointment, some level of production is permanently lost, as some of these patients will never return to the office. They disappeared and no one noticed. Lost patients are a permanent loss of production.


More “Practice production, prioritized”:


Practices should always focus on two things from a production perspective. First, achieve as much production as possible as soon as possible. Second, keep your patients. So why chase overdue patients to schedule them when you’re feeling busy or productive? Most practices have a scheduling system that can be redesigned to increase production by 30% to 50%; That’s why. Most practices have untapped scheduling capacity, and the easiest way to fill free chair time or slots in an expanded schedule is with late patients (often more than 15% of the total patient base ). How do you do? Implement “the rule of the day”. The One Day Rule is simple and we suggest that every practice follow it religiously. It states: Call any patient who is late for an appointment on the day they are late, no matter what. This simple concept makes it virtually impossible to forget overdue patients. Although simple, it can be difficult to implement. How many people at the reception, when asked when they contact late patients to schedule them, answer: “When I have free time”. Reception staff are usually extremely busy and multi-task with little free time. There’s always something to do. By following the One Day Rule, you are teaching your staff a diet and creating a positive habit. And one thing that’s important to remember about contacting overdue patients is that this is a time when a phone call or voicemail is preferable to an SMS. Many practices have automated text systems which are great for reminding and confirming patients, but in our experience, telephone communication or voicemail is the preferred method for scheduling overdue patients. When patients take your call or hear a voicemail message using a positive script that displays caring, concern and customer service, they are much more likely to book an appointment right away or call the office. It takes a bit more effort, but it’s worth it.

Take the time to analyze how many of your current patients are late. Keeping track of any patient who is a day late for an appointment is customer service to them and in the best interest of the practice. As a general target, the goal should be to schedule between 96% and 98% of all active patients at any given time. By implementing the one-day rule described above, practices have the best chance of achieving this goal and adding $1 million or more to the practice over the course of every dentist’s career.


Editor’s note: This article appeared in the April 2022 print edition of Dental economy magazine. Dentists in North America can take advantage of a free print subscription. Register here.

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