As a dental care provider, your work doesn’t end when the patient leaves your office after a procedure. Preventive care is very important for dental health. But how many of your patients schedule their next visit and how many bother to show up? Most people don’t like going to the dentist, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. But annual checkups and regular cleaning sessions go a long way to prevent more serious problems.
Every practice needs a rock solid system for getting patients back for preventive visits. This often involves multiple staff members – from the receptionist to the dental hygienist. Everyone has a part to play and technology can be very helpful for this workflow. Put together a checklist that contains all the steps for scheduling preventive visits. List all the tasks, who is responsible for what and also include timings for when you should complete each task. Here are a few tips for setting up an effective recall system.
Your patients use technology all the time and so should you. Use email or texting to remind them of upcoming appointments. Give them the opportunity to reschedule online if they cannot come in for a visit at the appointed time. Offer multiple channels for patients to reach your office – calls, texts, emails, social networks, your website and so on.
Many EHRs also have built in tools to manage reminders and appointment scheduling. So learn how to use them to your advantage since you’re paying for those features anyway. You can even setup automated systems to send reminders at a preset frequency (3 months, 2 weeks and then a day before the actual appointment etc.)
Make it Hard to Cancel Appointments
Now to be sure, you don’t want to make it impossible to cancel since work, family or study schedules often get in the way of visits. But canceling an appointment should be harder than making one. If you offer 3 or 4 ways to schedule a visit, there should be just 1 or 2 to cancel.
Suppose patients can make appointments online, by replying to the reminder text or email and by calling the front desk. On the other hand you shouldn’t be able to cancel through email or text, only through a phone call. This ensures that patients don’t cancel visits except in case of a real emergency and not just because they’re afraid of hearing bad news.
Use Positive Language
Don’t give patients the opportunity to say no when you remind them about preventive visits. Instead of asking if they want to schedule an appointment after 6 months, rephrase the sentence to be more affirmative. Instead, the receptionist or hygienist could say, ‘Your next appointment is in 6 months, do you want to get a reminder via email/text/postcard?’ Most people would choose one of the alternatives and very few would refuse the appointment.
Follow up on Visits
This applies to both before and after a visit. Remind them of an appointment 2 days before the actual visit. The hygienist should have the patient file open before them and discuss any questions, issues or other problems the patient is coming in for. Similarly follow up a visit with a call, text or email with oral care tips and techniques. Remind them of missed appointments through an automated system that allows them to schedule another visit.
Apart from these specific tasks, your practice should also work to raise awareness about preventive care in general. Stress that regular visits make it easier to prevent serious issues down the road. Follow these tips and you will soon get patients back in the chair on time!