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3 Tips for Handling Cancellations in Your Dental Practice.

by | Mar 30, 2024 | Articles, Tips and Tricks | 0 comments

3 Tips for Handling Cancellations in Your Dental Practice.

The more patients you see, the more lives you can improve and the more money you make. The more treatments you provide, the more both parties win. 

Unfortunately, cancellations get in the way of that “win-win.” They’re a pain in the neck for every dentist, to say the least. They don’t only have an impact on our schedules and leave us twiddling our thumbs, but they result in patient’s going untreated.

You can’t ever eliminate cancellations, but you can minimize them. It’s up to us to remedy the situation by helping patients who are canceling keep their appointment. But that’s easier said than done, which is why I want to give you three tips for handling cancellations in your dental practice.

1. Focus on improving lives and not on filling your schedule.

The fact of the matter is that we’re the gatekeepers of our patient’s oral health. Getting our patients to come in might make us feel like we’re being salesy and trying to keep our schedules full, but we need to remember that’s not the true aim. If you feel that way, then a mindset shift in order. Remember that getting patients to sit in your chairs is helping them get the care they deserve.

Patient retention strategies aren’t about forcing patients to do something that isn’t good for them, and that’s worth keeping top of mind when they try to cancel. They might not want to take care of themselves by getting treatment, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in their best interest.

We’ll feel better at the end of the day if we focus on changing their lives and become motivated by that rather than what cancellations mean for our bottom line. This mentality will enable us to have more genuine conversations, too, which takes us to the second tip.

2. Have your front desk team use proper “phone etiquette” when conversing with patients who are canceling.

We need to ask the right questions when patients are canceling by leveraging front desk communication skills. When on the phone with a patient who is trying to cancel, we can use verbiage that opens the conversation up—or “phone etiquette.” 

At the very least, have your front desk staff member ask a question about why that patient is trying to cancel. In other words, don’t have them immediately dive into rescheduling the patient. They might say, “I’m sorry you can’t make it but the doctor is pretty booked, is there any way you can make it in?” and then pause to see what they have to say. This will likely put them in a position where they must explain why they can’t make it. 

Once your team starts asking questions that’ll reveal the reasons behind a cancellation, they may learn a patient’s cancellation is due to something like a financial issue. That gives them the opportunity to show the patient what alternatives they can explore to help pay for treatment. Maybe this comes in the form of a membership plan, a way to utilize insurance, and so on.

Oftentimes, patients will be canceling because they don’t have the time. But, if your team uses front desk communication skills and phone etiquette to have that “deeper” conversation, they may learn that the patient can make it but can’t stay the full time that has been allotted for their treatment. In that case, you can at least make a compromise. Perhaps you only initiate the first phases of their treatment or make some tweaks to your schedule so they can come in earlier.

It’s important to know that dental appointment scheduling shouldn’t be about interrogating patients or putting them under pressure. The trick behind using phone etiquette for front desk communication skills is putting the ball in the patient’s court and helping them realize that treatment is always available. The aim is to explore the obstacles getting in the way of them coming in and try to find a way to hurdle them. You’ll undo patient retention strategies if you make your patient feel ashamed for not coming in—instead, you want the patient to feel cared for.

Finally, if the patient needs to cancel despite the best efforts of your front desk staff member, have them ask the patient when they want to come in versus whether they want to come in. So, don’t have your front desk team member say, “Do you want to reschedule?” Instead, have them say, “Let’s go ahead and find a better time for you, then. Would Friday work okay for you, or would you rather come in next Tuesday?”

3. Help patients realize the value of not canceling.

We know all about dental health, but our patients only know the tip of the iceberg at best. Patient education in dentistry is so important when it comes to accepting treatment: If we’re able to communicate to them the value of getting treatment, they’re much more likely to build a sense of urgency and at least reschedule.

Many patients fail to realize that their oral health is an important aspect of their overall health. As a dentist, it is our job to talk about the importance of dental care, the value of getting treatment, and be proactive advocates of patient education in dentistry. When patients are educated about the benefits of dental care, they are more likely to not only accept treatment but seek it out on their own volition. 

Even something as simple as a cleaning appointment is important. It provides people with a chance to get healthier teeth and gums which can lead to better oral hygiene habits and a healthier body in general. But it’s especially important to educate a patient when they’re in need of more complex dental treatment.

Just like asking the right questions isn’t about interrogating your patients, educating patients isn’t about scaring them. We simply want to convey why we want to sit them in our chairs and help them to understand what the consequences might be if they don’t.

Less cancellations translates to improving more lives.

It’s not just about the time that we can save—it’s about the lives that we can save. Cancellations will always happen, and oftentimes the reasons behind them are totally excusable. But when it is something that could have been prevented—like forgetting to set an alarm or being too busy at work—then it’s up to us to get innovative about dental appointment scheduling and see how we can work around things.

I run a community full of dental professionals just like you. So, join the Nifty Thrifty Dentists Facebook group and reach out! People from all across the globe will be happy to tell you how they go about handling cancellations in their dental practices.



Glenn Vo
Author: Glenn Vo