Missed appointments are common across a variety of fields – whether that’s patients who forget to show up for their physical therapy appointment or clients who miss the scheduled time for their haircut. But missed appointments plague the healthcare industry in particular – where no-shows can cause major hiccups in efficiencies, not to mention lost revenue. And within healthcare, dentists often struggle more than other medical providers to keep their clients showing up at the right place and time.
This issue of no-shows is a serious headache for dentists and managers of dental practices. But fortunately, there are simple, cost-effective steps dental industry workers can take to mitigate the problem. Read on for more about the problem of dentist appointment no-shows – and how to fix it.
Plenty of researchers have studied the detrimental affects of no-shows on medical practices. Missed revenue from these no-shows each year is huge – Healthcare Finance reported that missed appointments cost healthcare providers $150 billion annually worldwide. And the American Osteopathic Association found that no-shows can reduce a certain practice’s anticipated revenue by as much as 14%.
This is especially true for dental practices. Studies from around the world have found no-show rates for dental appointments reaching as high as 38% (India) and 58.1% (Saudi Arabia), which is higher than corresponding no-show rates for other types of medical appointments. This research indicates that missed dental appointments are an issue that merit serious attention.
The impacts of this problem, however, go beyond a dental office’s bottom line. A missed appointment means a patient is missing an important opportunity to check in on their oral health. Dentists know this better than anyone: if a patient doesn’t come to see them, they might never become aware of problems with their oral health, which are occasionally difficult to spot without X-Rays, or only noticeable on the patient’s end much later, after they’re in pain or unwell.
Ultimately, regular dental appointments are key to good, healthy teeth. And so making sure a patient makes their appointment isn’t merely an investment in the financial wellbeing of a dental practice; it’s an investment in the health of a member of the community.
A majority missed appointments come down to a simple, understandable reason: The patient forgot. Our busy lives make keeping track of everything we have scheduled difficult. And even though there are more online calendars and scheduling apps than ever before, it can still be hard for a patient to keep track of it all. Especially in the case of medical appointments, a patient often schedules their appointment months and months in advance. What’s more, that patient usually schedules their appointment at the end of the last one, just as they’re heading out the door. Sometimes they jot down the time in their phone or add it to their Google Calendar. But just as often, the patient scurries away without thinking too much about it. This often means that, months later, when it’s time for the appointment, they haven’t thought about it in a very long time.
When it comes to dental appointments, dentists have additional challenges to deal with. Many patients report feeling fear and anxiety before dental appointments. This can affect their willingness to show up, or their quickness to schedule their next appointment. Of course, dentists know that dental appointments are nothing to be scared about. But stereotypes and TV tropes around miserable trips to the dentist are no help. The Cleveland Clinic found that 36% of patients in the U.S. have a fear of the dentist, and 12% have an “extreme fear,” otherwise known as dentophobia.
Beyond this unfortunate fear, there are other reasons why dental appointments might be hard for patients to make. One of them is the average length, which often is longer than checkups at other types of medical practices. A dental checkup typically includes a cleaning – an important, but occasionally time-consuming practice. Adding this to the length it takes to perform other routine tests, such as X-Rays, or add-on procedures, such as fluoride, and many dental patients find their trips to the dentist are better measured in hours than minutes. Of course, all of this is great for their oral health, but studies have shown occasionally impacts patients’ desire to book or schedule dental appointments.
When it comes to no-shows, there’s another issue after all of this: the recent Covid-19 pandemic. When the U.S. was in a lockdown phase, many patients cancelled their dental appointments to avoid exposure to the virus. Many dental practices shut down completely. Things have returned to something resembling closer to normal recently. But there is still a chunk of former patients that have never thought to reschedule their lost appointments from that time. And dental practices are still playing catch-up when it comes to bringing everyone back in.
According to a study performed by the University of Michigan, and later reported on in the Daily Mail, one-third of people over 50 years old skipped a doctors or dentist appointment due to Covid, and 25 percent of those people never made up for it with a reschedule as of 2022. 31% of those skipped appointments were dentist appointments. At the same time, the Medical Group Management Association found that 49% of medical practices reported that their no-show rate had increased since the pandemic.
What that can mean, on the patient end, is getting out of the important habit of regularly seeing a dentist. It can take months if not years to rebuild that habit and get a patient back on track.
Fortunately, there are simple, effective ways for managements of dental offices to combat this widespread no-show issue. The easiest and most transformative is implementing a system for automated appointment reminders. Often, all a patient needs is a quick, friendly reminder to their phone or email to show up at their appointment.
Dental offices can utilize software designed to keep patients aware of upcoming appointments, follow up after they’ve come in for a visit, and remind them to reschedule after a cancellation. The good news is: an appointment reminder system is simple to set up, and once it’s in use, requires hardly any time or effort to maintain.
Appointment reminder software uses reminder templates that can be customized for every dental office, then sends appointment reminders out to patients via text messages, phone calls, or emails. The reminder software automates these sms messages, calls and email reminders, so busy practice managers don’t need to worry about them.
In addition, appointment reminders offer diverse functionalities. Though its most popular use is for reminding patients of upcoming appointments, a software can also send out follow-ups after appointments have ended, requests to schedule future appointments, directions to a particular facility, and more.
In addition to decreasing a dental office’s no-show rate, appointment reminder software also has a less tangible, but equally important benefit: improving patient satisfaction. When patients hear from their medical providers, they’re more likely to have their appointments top-of-mind – and that often means good things for their health and wellbeing. Patients who show up to their appointments can rest assured that their health is being taken care of.
And the truth is, these patients don’t like missing their appointments either. No-shows are a disappointment to everyone involved. Patients appreciate a convenient, timely notification because these reminders make it easier for them to take care of their own health. Ultimately, these email, phone and sms reminders increase the level of connection between a dental office and their patient – something that benefits everybody.
It’s easy to get started with an appointment reminder system. Reminderly offers a convenient system for appointment reminders that’s simple to set up and use. Reminderly can be easily integrated into a dental office’s existing practice management software or online scheduling software, as well as calendars like Google Calendar and iCal. And it can keep track of the heaps of information such as patient names, upcoming appointment times, responses and more.
Better yet, there’s a 14-day free trial that allows managers of your dental office to try it out for themselves. For more information about how it works, and to get started, contact us.