Patients become unreliable for a variety of reasons: dental phobia, disorganization, travel, lack of accountability, or legitimate personal crises that interrupt their lives. Whatever the reason, patients who don’t return for bi-annual check-ups or skip them without notice can be a drain on your administrative resources, a loss to your business, and a nightmare for your scheduling! In this article, we’ll use the Patient Persona concept to find the reasons why patients become unreliable and the ways you can prevent no-shows in your practice.
Persona 1: Susy Student
Susy is in her early 20s and finishing up her BA at a local college. She is not very worried about her dental health, but needs bi-annual check ups and to have a temporary crown removed and a permanent one placed. She is very busy with school and often misses appointments, though she is apologetic when called about them.
Solution: Like many young people, Susy is attached all hours of the day to her smartphone. Using SMS reminders for dental appointments is the increasingly preferred method among patients. Be sure to send a confirmation once the appointment is booked, along with at least one reminder a week before and another reminder the day before. Unless your patients specifically request another reminder format—like postcards—stick to the SMS! If you want to back up your SMS campaigns with phone calls, add in a yes/no question: “Will you be at your appointment?” Providing these kinds of clear answers increases accountability in a business context—if it works for employees, it should work for your patients!
Persona 2: Freddy Fearful
Freddy is in his late 30s, fairly responsible, employed and courteous. However, he’s also terrified of the dentist and tells himself his appointments are not that important as a way of putting them off. He’s not a no-show, but he’s a never-schedule. How to convince patients like Freddy to come in every 6 months?
Solution: Patients like Freddy need more communication than others right from the get-go. This is a good time to offer dental phobia specialty services, if you offer them at your practice. But really, education about the importance of regular dental visits should start from the first appointment. Explain in detail the importance of preventative care to prevent scarier procedures down the road. Offer to schedule consultation about a treatment plan without any dental work involved if a patient seems reluctant to come in, or to come back. No fear dentistry always starts with communication.
Persona 3: Cassie Crisis
Patients are regular people with personal lives. Sometimes a no-show is due to an illness in the family, a last-minute trip for a funeral, or something else unexpected. Take the case of Cassie, she is a working mom in her 40s, and her husband’s mother has cancer. In the last year she postponed two check-ups due to traveling to help care for her mother-in-law and she missed another appointment without calling to cancel.
Solution: This example makes a great case for assigning the job of confirmations and follow-ups for each patient to a specific staff member. This way, the staff member knows the history of the patient, whether they have a tendency to cancel or not show up, etc. In Cassie’s case, a curt message about a missed appointment is not appropriate for someone battling a personal crisis. Inquiring about Cassie gently and working with her to find a time that makes sense with her life right now is a better approach—or perhaps putting her on the short-call list to fill in gaps in the schedule when other patients cancel at the last minute.
Persona 4: Hopeless Les
Some patients seem to be more hassle than they are worth. Les is in his early 30s, and a seemingly nice guy, but completely unreliable. He has missed two check-ups without calling, showed up 30+minutes late to his last appointment, and expected to be accommodated anyway. He never responds to phone messages about missed appointments. You’ve tried SMS and phone confirmations, but no luck.
Solution: Cut him loose. If patients miss more than a couple of appointments without calling, and don’t express any regret or have a legitimate excuse, stop calling them. There is no reason to take up your staff’s time and energy with someone who is simply not able to handle basic responsibility.
Patient retention and acquisition are the key goals of dental practice management, and both hinge on getting people in for bi-annual check-ups. Know your patients! Using patient personas can be helpful for solving a whole range of problems lurking in your practice management and marketing plans. Add to this list with patient personas at your practice to see immediate improvements in appointment scheduling success.