The Only Way To Be Handling The Appointment Cancellation Phone Call

There will always be cancellations.

You can’t stop people from cancelling appointments, but what you can do is courteously help them.

You can help them to keep their appointment by prioritising their commitment to their dental treatment required.

There will always be reasons for rescheduling and cancelling. What we need to do is to be able to prioritise those reasons and then help the patient to make another appointment as quickly as possible, before their condition gets worse, or dare I say, irreparable.

A cancellation will be either for a genuine reason or for a fake reason.

Sometimes what the patient considers a genuine reason is actually a third category of reason, that I call a “ghost”. The reason looks real to them, but in actual fact, the reason is an illusion.

A ghost reason can be logically resolved.

The big problem with receiving calls to cancel and reschedule is that we as the dental office feel hurt and rejected, and therefore we can often react accordingly.

And a reaction is wrong.

We always need to be compassionate and concerned.

No matter what the reason put up for the appointment cancellation.

If we do not take the call with compassion, we have very little chance of the patient reprioritising and keeping the appointment, or of the patient reorganising their affairs so that they might still be able to be treated that day, if a same day solution [at another time] is available.

Remember this principle:

Sometimes the reason promoted for the appointment change may not actually be the true reason for changing, but may be a reason being put forward.

In this instance, expressing compassion and courtesy can often draw out some contrition from the caller that results in the them keeping the appointment.

The best way to handle these cancellation calls is to ask the caller questions.

I don’t think it is of any use to revert to our *CANCELLATION POLICY*.

In fact, if you have an officer Cancellation Policy, I suggest you destroy it.

After all, it really is an indication that your office has a bigger problem.

Having a cancellation policy and dragging it out and using it, and sometimes displaying it, is like wearing a neon sign around your neck that says “I’m stupid”.

The neon sign draws attention to the lack of intelligence.

The cancellation policy draws attention to the fact that you have cancellations.

The main reason that patients cancel appointments unnecessarily is because they don’t understand the importance and urgency about the treatment that they are having.

We need to religiously invest time with our patients when they are in our office about the importance of their next appointment, and what will happen if the treatment is deferred or delayed.

If we fail to do this routinely then we only set ourselves up to receive cancellations.

But again, the education here must be done compassionately and without lecturing or demeaning.

Never show frustration about the changed appointment.

Sure, cancellations are annoying.

But to stay in control we need to appear to be unphased and cool.

We need to embrace their reason, then clarify, and ask compassionate questions.

There are some very valid reasons for changing appointments.

Deaths, traumas, and medical emergencies are amongst those reasons that we do need to be accepting of.

And understanding.

But it is important to make note of repeat reasons and excuses.

The keeping of a daily call log book in your dental office where ALL incoming calls to the dental office are noted, does allow our office to monitor the number of cancellation calls and the reasons for the cancellations, as well as which team member is taking the calls and what their results are on each of those calls.

Remember what gets recorded gets improved upon.

If we know what our most common reasons are for appointment changes we can learn to improve upon the way we deal with those calls, as well as be able to address those reasons in advance at the time of making the appointments.

Remember that asking the patient at the time of making the appointment:

“Now Betty, is there anything that you can think of that might come up that would prevent you from keeping this appointment time?”

Is a very important way to pre-empt any changes.

The patient already knows that the treatment they will receive is important and urgent, and by asking this question, we can gain an added commitment from the patient to keep the appointment, because if they did have a desire to reschedule for a minor reason, they will remember that they had told us that they were not aware of any reason that would prevent them keeping the appointment.

And therefore, will renege on calling to cancel.

By asking this routinely we can certainly reduce the number of appointments changed for “ghost” reasons and fake reasons.

Remember, it is our duty to do everything that we can to help our patients have the treatment they need and to not let them defer and delay this necessary treatment.

This is how we serve our patients.

Allowing patients to defer and delay treatment because of an inability to work with their concerns, is not in the patients’ best interests.

Courteously handling these calls goes a very long way towards building the trust and the necessary relationships that in turn fosters the respect between patients and dental office that results in more appointments being kept.

And isn’t that best?

Have you ever noticed that all your best patients are the ones who accept their recommended treatment, happily make and keep their appointments, and are even happy to bring their appointments forward if the opportunity arises?


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