3 Ways Software Can Help Reduce No-Shows and Short-Notice Cancellation

I know from experience that few things are as frustrating for dental clinic administrators as when a patient doesn’t show up for their appointment, or cancels at the last minute. Dental clinics run on efficiency, and nothing is more wasteful than having large blocks of time open up during business hours because a patient couldn’t be bothered to cancel in advance.

While it might be tempting to blame the patient for being disorganized, if you want to understand why short-notice cancellations are so common – and you want to explore strategies for reducing the number of no-shows you have to deal with – it can be helpful to put yourself in the patient’s shoes.

Numerous studies have confirmed that the average person finds going to the dentist to be an extremely stressful experience, so it shouldn’t be surprising that many patients decide to back out when their appointment comes around. Instead of getting angry, it is far more productive to explore what tools are available to help patients keep their appointments, and re-book far in advance when they have a legitimate scheduling conflict.

At ABELDent we’ve built a dental practice management software platform explicitly designed to help clinics modernize the way they handle booking and patient communications. Here are three ways you can use practice management software to reduce no-shows and short-notice cancellations.

1. Software Keeps You Connected

Patients cancel appointments for many reasons, but the root problem is often a sense of disconnection. As a health care provider, it is your job to make patients feel safe and comfortable. Patients who feel cared for and valued are far more likely to follow through on their appointments, and to provide advance warning when they need to re-book.

Dental practice management software can help you cultivate this sense of connection by helping you keep detailed notes about each one of your patients, making personalized care easier and communication more fluid.

Over the years, ABELDent has helped countless dental clinics leverage the power of tools like patient reminder software to make patients feel more connected, and as our testimonials page shows, ABELDent software solutions have had a major impact on clinic success across the country.

2. Software Puts Patients in the Driver’s Seat

Making your patients feel more connected to your clinic is important, but it is perhaps even more essential to make them feel like they are in control of their own booking. If it is hard for a patient to contact your clinic to re-book an appointment, they probably won’t, and in the digital age we live in, patients may consider calling the clinic and talking with a staff member to be too much of a hassle.

If the patient decides to miss their appointment without contacting you, not only does this leave you with a gap in your schedule, it also means having to follow up with the patient and find a new time to see them.

One of the reasons patient portals are so effective is that they allow patients to control various aspects of their booking from their personal device. In addition to being able to view their health records and update personal information, most portals enable patients to view their upcoming appointments, request changes, and even cancel a visit (if you choose to provide this option).

Empowering patients to take charge of their bookings through their smartphone or computer is a great way to ensure that they provide you plenty of warning if they aren’t able to make it to an appointment.

3. Software Makes Sending Automated Reminders Easy

Sometimes, however, short-notice cancellations or missed appointments simply happen because the patient forgot they had an appointment. Given how far in advance bookings are typically made, it can be easy for patients to lose track of time and accidentally double-book themselves. Helping these patients keep their appointments is as easy as sending them an automated appointment reminder with the click of an icon.

Studies have shown that automated appointment reminder systems play an important role in reducing cancellation numbers, and are why sending reminders to patients is becoming a standard practice across the industry. Without this tool, a busy staff faced with a full schedule can result in reminders slipping through the cracks and remain unsent. Using automated appointment reminder software to make sure all patients are contacted in advance via email or text should be an important part of your communication strategy.

Given how many different things are involved in dental practice administration, it can be easy to lose site of the fact that dentistry exists for one reason: to serve patients. Last-minute cancellations are annoying, but cultivating a person-centred approach with patients when dealing with this issue can help. Effectively communicating to patients the importance of keeping their appointments or giving sufficient notice if there is a problem can be a preventative strategy to reduce missed appointments and the associated stress.

Adopting software tools that make patients feel more connected to your clinic and more in charge of their own booking is a great way to increase follow-through, and ensure that anxiety or hectic schedules are not keeping your patients from taking care of their oral health.

Building a Dental Team for Practice Success

Building a great dental practice means putting together the right team of people. I know from my own experience just how difficult this can be: not only do you need to find candidates with the right skills for the job, but you also need to find people who will be a good fit and who share your vision for what good dental care means!

I’ve explored the topic of building a better dental team in this space before, but given how important this is to the overall success of your practice, I thought it might be helpful to share a few more outside-the-box considerations when looking to build your team.

Don’t Just Look for Competencies, Look for People

One common mistake many small businesses make when hiring new team members is to focus on the candidate’s credentials to the exclusion of everything else. Obviously, when hiring new staff you want to make sure they have the training, knowledge, and expertise to do the work – but you also want someone who will fit in well with your workplace culture, and has the soft skills to help your clinic thrive.

People with the following soft skills will help improve efficacy and efficiency, while contributing to a positive atmosphere:

  • Self Confidence – From receptionists to hygienists, employees who exude confidence contribute to a sense of calm and trust throughout the clinic.
  • Compassion – Going to the dentist is the second most common phobia in the world, so when you work in dentistry, you need to bring compassion and a soothing demeanour to the job to help patients through the process.
  • Attention to detail – Being detail-oriented and having a mind for the little considerations goes a long way in a dental practice. Missing small details can lead to scheduling conflicts, and in the chair, it can mean that patients may not understand the rational for treatment and/or may have unrealistic expectations about the outcome.
  • Time management skills – In any job, it’s essential to use time wisely, but it is especially important in a dental clinic, as everything from scheduling dental procedures efficiently to lab case tracking to patient follow-up requires managing time efficiently.

Many recruiters have noted that often the most “impressive” candidate ends up not being the best fit, because the things that make a candidate look good on paper and in an interview – extroversion, charm, and an elite education – don’t necessarily mean they will perform well in the context of your clinic. 

Look for Workers Who Can Grow Alongside Your Clinic

Hiring a new team member is an investment, and just like with any other investment, you want to make sure they will grow alongside your business.

This is why it’s important to ask candidates lots of questions about their career goals and overall direction. Someone might seem like a great employee, but if they are only considering a short-term commitment, it may be more advantageous to find someone else looking for long term stability.

Invest in Onboarding

Finding good people is only the first part of building your team. Once you’ve made your hires, you also need to take the time to integrate them into your team. All too often, promising new employees are given a cursory tour of the clinic, introduced quickly to the rest of the staff and then thrown into the deep end.

In my recent post about dental staff training I noted that training new staff offers a great return on investment when done properly. But it isn’t just inexperienced or junior staff who require training: even people who have been working in the industry for years require some investment in onboarding if they are to gel with your staff and become productive members of your team.  

Onboarding should involve going over technical tools that team members will be expected to use like practice management software, automated patient communication and digital radiography, but it should also be designed to ensure that new hires know where they can go to find help and support when they have questions. 

Investing extra time and energy upfront will pay off down the road in the form of fewer errors and less turnover.

Engagement is the Key to Reducing Turnover

Building a dental team isn’t just about making good hires – it’s also about retaining them (just like patient retention is also critical for practice success!)  Once you’ve got your dream team in place, you’ll want to hold on to it. Experts have been saying for years that the healthcare industry has a major turnover problem – industry-wide turnover is hovering at twenty percent.

High turnover rates are bad for morale and threaten your bottom line. It can cost thousands of dollars to replace an experienced employee – losing good workers comes with a serious price tag!

Working at a dental practice can be stressful, dentists and hygienists are held to high performance standards every day, which is why it is important for owners to make special efforts to ensure their team feels engaged, happy and fulfilled in their work.

Building a strong team for your dental clinic takes time and effort, but securing the right people for your growing team is always going to be a good investment. Putting together a sensitive, collegial, and patient-focussed team will pay dividends in terms of patient loyalty and long-term success. 

Mission, Vision and Value Statements: The foundation for Achieving Your Practice Objectives

Two years ago I posted the blog Are you Living the Vision, Mission and Values of your Dental Practice?. Today’s blog expands on the theme and helps you answer that question by proving examples of mission, vision and values statements that you can use for your own practice. Once established, you’ll see how they form the foundation for prioritizing your core practice objectives. I’ll then show you how to measure your progress in achieving these objectives by using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) derived from practice management software.

Let’s start with your mission statement. It is a concise summary of why you are in business, what makes you unique and the value your practice provides to those you serve. Here’s an example. “ABC Dental is committed to providing our patients with the highest quality dental care in the most comfortable and stress-free environment possible.”

Next, your vision statement adds the “how” of the business and the means of defining success. Without a solid plan that supports the practice values, it is likely to remain just a vision. A vision statement example is, “To operate an efficient, profitable and satisfying practice based on proven management principles”.

Finally, your value statements – they serve as everyday guides for long-term practice success. Here are some examples to consider:

Value Proposition Examples Value Proposition Statements
Quality We provide exceptional dental care and service for maximum value.                             
Commitment We develop relationships that make a positive difference in our patients’ lives.
Full Disclosure We provide a full explanation of all treatment options and the consequences of non-treatment.
Integrity We are personally accountable for delivering on our commitments.
Respect We value our employees, encourage their development and reward their performance.

Once you develop your mission, vision and value statements, you can use them to prioritize the following measurable core practice objectives. Working with dental practices over the years has given me the opportunity to observe their importance:

1. Quality of care

Your commitment to provide high-quality service and achieve patient satisfaction should remain one of your primary objectives. Qualitative Measures: A large number of positive reviews and patient referrals and a high re-appointment and patient retention rate are all indications that you are delivering what you promised.

2. Patient growth

Net patient growth (new patients, fewer lost patients) is vital for any practice. External marketing strategies for attracting new patients and internal marketing for patient retention and referrals are the key to achieve this objective. Qualitative Measures: Net new patients (New patients minus patients lost over the same time period).

3. Production growth

To increase production revenue in the absence of patient growth, unscheduled prescribed treatment and outstanding recalls needs to be diligently tracked. Qualitative Measures: Production per unit of time, average production per patient, average production per appointment, treatment plan conversion rate and percentage of patients on regular recall.

4. Practice sustainability

Too much practice overhead reduces profit margins, whereas too little overhead will choke your practice growth. Consider every major spending decision from a return-on-investment perspective if profitability is one of your main goals. Qualitative Measures: Practice break even point and patient retention rate.

5. Low-stress environment

In many cases, inefficient business systems can be a source of dental practice stress. By implementing well-designed operational systems, improving your practice’s performance becomes easier and more productive, resulting in less stress. Qualitative Measures: Patient wait times, rate of missed appointments and cancellations, operatory downtime and number of patient complaints.

6. Professional satisfaction

Reflecting on why you wanted to become a dentist and what type of dentistry you like to do will help determine where professional satisfaction fits in when prioritizing your objectives. Qualitative Measures: Dental procedure composition and number of positive reviews.

To conclude, effectively using your practice management system to track your progress can help you identify problems before it is too late to recover. It is important to involve the entire dental team when developing your practice statements and objectives. You are all stakeholders and, to achieve practice objectives, everyone needs to participate in improving upon any identified deficiencies.

Dental Team Training: Getting The Best Return on Investment

Think back to when you first decided to you wanted to be a dentist and how you felt when you discovered what education and training was going to be necessary. And, with the rapid pace of change in dentistry today, no doubt you feel the need to continue learning just to keep pace!

Why do I mention this when it may seem so obvious? To urge you to also consider your team’s training needs the benefits you can accrue for your practice by meeting them.

As the CEO of my own team, I can attest to the value of a properly trained staff and how it can improve productivity and employee satisfaction. Other companies have enjoyed the same results.

Yet, despite the validated benefits, it is often tempting to reduce training time in order to cut costs.

Yes training is an investment in time and money but let’s look at the two types of training dental offices can take advantage of and that will pay huge dividends down the road.

First, there is the training necessary for effective individual staff roles. Team members need to know what the expectations are, how to effectively perform their required daily tasks and what skill development is necessary for future improvement/career growth.

Second (and what is naturally dear to my heart), is training that ensures practice management software is used as effectively as possible in the dental practice. Regardless of what system you are using, here are just some of the reasons to arrange software training for your staff:

  1. Improved Practice Performance
    Properly trained staff help you run a successful practice. They are better equipped to use the software to handle patient inquiries, appointment scheduling, transaction processing, and to identify treatment opportunities that lead to increased efficiency and profitability.
  2. Quicker Transition
    In most cases, staff that receive proper training can be up and running with key features much quicker compared to proceeding without any guidance.
  3. Reduced Need for Support
    Staff who already know what to do request support services less often – this saves you time and money.
  4. Fewer Errors
    Properly trained staff make fewer errors. More importantly, errors will not be compounded over time since they are eliminated/avoided at an early stage.
  5. Less Stress
    Well trained staff feel much more confident using the software, are less stressed and are able to remain more focused.
  6. More Efficient Knowledge Transfer
    With your software as the facilitator, you can cross-train staff to be capable in more than one aspect of the practice. This will help keep them interested and prove helpful when setting schedules or filling in for absences. In addition, if more than one person on your team has special skills, you are less vulnerable if someone does leave the practice.
  7. Better Staff Retention
    Quality training is a recruiting, job satisfaction and retention tool. Today’s dental staff want more than a pay cheque. Their focus is toward employment that allows them to learn new skills and reach their full potential.
  8. Appropriate System Configuration
    For new installs, a key component of training involves understanding your practice’s profile, office protocols and workflow requirements and then configuring/using the system accordingly. When this is done properly at the start it boosts overall efficiency and can prevent many headaches down the road.

In summary, proper training is essential for your staff to reach full potential and capitalize on the full potential of your dental software. So book your next training session – not just a one-time thing – staff training is a long-term investment!

Paradigm Shifts in Dental Software Have Proven to Add Real Value: What’s Next?

As a company that pioneered software for the healthcare profession – yes, we are talking the 70’s – we’ve seen a number of paradigm shifts over the decades in response to an increasingly complex and competitive environment. Let’s quickly review what’s become the standard in dental practice management and look at the next big advances that you can use to your advantage.

First – a bit of history
When we started serving dental offices, our software solution focused on maintaining accurate patient records and reducing the drudgery of billing and financial record keeping – essentially, it eliminated the need for time consuming, manual systems such as One-Write pegboard. Fortunately, dental practices were able to transition from these manual systems relatively quickly and pain free.

Next came the focus on recall and treatment plan management so patients didn’t fall through the cracks and electronic submission of insurance claims to save time and reduce errors. These paradigm shifts were reasonably easy to develop and implement.

The next big paradigm shift was electronic scheduling which proved to be much more challenging. Early versions looked too foreign for most users, had limited functionality and were cumbersome to use due to technical constraints at the time. However, as computer technology advanced, so did electronic appointment books to the point where manual scheduling systems have become completely impractical.

What did we learn that is helpful going forward?
The lesson learned was that, if the rational for a paradigm shift is sound, the benefits will far outweigh any temporary discomfort.

Unfortunately, many practices are still learning this and have not yet capitalized on more recent paradigm shifts in practice automation. One example of this is hesitancy to move to a fully paperless practice by replacing the paper patient chart with an electronic version. This delay is likely due to a number of misconceptions about the costs, benefits and difficulty.

What are other paradigm shifts that can benefit your practice?
How about automated appointment management that’s proven to reduce no shows and boost practice productivity?

There is also increased awareness of the need to track and make use of objective practice metrics for practice monitoring, and better decision making. The best practice management systems produce key performance indicators (KPIs) which quantitatively measure your practice performance in various areas against established targets.

What are the takeaways?

  • If you haven’t gone paperless there’s no reason to delay any longer – the technology has been validated and the benefits are numerous.
  • Automated patient communication tools and practice metric tracking are important things to consider – they boost practice success.
  • Whatever the next dental practice management paradigm shift proves to be, implement it. If you don’t, sooner or later your competition will.

How A Cloud Server Platform Can Help Your Dental Practice

Every day, dental clinics across Canada handle a lot of sensitive information. Between patient scheduling, clinical records, financial information, payroll, and co-ordination with other healthcare and insurance providers, dentists and dental hygienists need to know where to find the information they’re looking for at a moment’s notice.  

This means how and where to store information can be a major issue. As anyone who works in a dental clinic knows, the days of keeping patient files in manila folders is long gone for most – but just because clinics use computers now doesn’t mean the storage question has gone away.

As a solution, many clinics have started to backup their practice data in the Cloud. But some practices have told me that they have doubts about the Cloud’s safety. In addition, simply backing up data in the Cloud is only part of the solution and thus only mitigates part of the risk. If the data you access every day to run your practice still resides on a local server, you remain highly vulnerable to cyberattacks. To help, I’ve prepared this brief explanation of how the Cloud works and why using a cloud server is the more secure option for accessing and backing up your dental practice data.

What is the Cloud, Anyway?

In a nutshell, it means that rather than storing and accessing your data from an on-site (local) server, it is stored on powerful offsite servers (known as cloud servers) and accessed via the internet. Depending on the application, it may also be stored and accessed from the cloud server. cloud computing has been around since the 1960s but it’s only in recent years that cloud computing and cloud storage have become widely available. This shift happened when companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google started marketing cloud storage services to businesses and the public.

Chances are, you already use cloud services a lot more than you think – your last Netflix bingeing session of Stranger Things wouldn’t be possible without this technology. But some dental practice owners are still reluctant to access their records from the Cloud and store backups there because they worry that the Cloud is less secure than storing information on their own computers. But are these concerns actually warranted?

Is the Cloud Server Platform Safe?

The short answer to this question is yes – not only is the Cloud safe, but it actually offers more security than other data access, backup and storage methods.

When you store all of your live data on-site, there are a number of risks. Because your data is literally being stored on hard drives in your office, all someone needs to do is remove the hard drives and all the information stored on them will be lost. Even if you have kept a backup of your data on a separate storage medium, it will only be as up to date as the last time you did a backup. Furthermore, you have no way of knowing if your backup is valid. As a result, on-site data access and storage represents a huge vulnerability for any dental practice.

On-site storage also exposes your data to potential accidents or natural disasters. For example, with offices that experience floods or fires, there is a very real possibility that many years’ worth of information will be lost – particularly if backups are store on-site as well. The old adage about not putting all your eggs in one basket definitely applies here.

Will a Cloud Platform Affect How My Dental Practice Accesses Files?

Yes and no. When you use cloud servers to store your information, you are taking an important step toward preventive theft and loss of data. But this doesn’t mean it will be more difficult to access.

Not only do cloud server solutions store client information more securely, coupled with data encryption, they enable secure integrated, automated, patient communication solutions. These provide a safe and efficient means of information exchange between the practice and patients via email and text, particularly for appointment reminders and confirmation.

Another advantage of cloud computing is convenience: because data is stored in the Cloud rather than on local hard drives, your team members can access information from anywhere, on almost any device. And should there be a data security breach, access devices are not affected. If your workstations are damaged in a natural disaster or fire, all your information is already safely backed up remotely in the Cloud.

For these reasons, cloud-based practice management software is rapidly becoming the platform of choice for dental practices.

Don’t take any chances with your patients’ data; consider switching over to a cloud server solution specifically designed for use by dental practices. If you decide to stay with a local server solution for data storage, at the very least, make sure your practice data is regularly backed up in the cloud.

Take a Closer Look at your Dental Practice Practices

“Another last-minute cancellation… why does this keep happening?”

“I wonder how other dental practices promote preventive treatment.”

“What are the chances that patient will call back?”

A recent conversation with a Dental Office Manager revealed a few nagging complaints she regularly overhears from her staff. We were discussing common day-to-day frustrations in running a patient-reliant business, looking for ways to rise above them. I am a champion of practice management software – that’s a given – but it goes further than that. Any program can only be as effective as you make it, with trained staff who understand its potential and ensure its consistent, client-centric application.

The topic of internal processes and appointment scheduling effectiveness always brings to mind one of my father’s favourite quotes, loosely: How can you expect different – improved – outcomes if you keep doing things the same way?

Every aspect of your interactions with patients presents an opportunity to build positive perceptions. From the moment they arrive in your waiting room until the door closes behind them, each touchpoint is an opportunity to display empathy, direct communication, smooth processes, knowledgeable advice, and future focus. It is a mindset that can become intrinsic to your service.

Under the umbrella of ABELDent’s Practice Management By Objectives™ methodology, we developed a series of relevant KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – to assess your Internal Processes and optimize Appointment Scheduling protocols. You can easily extrapolate the data you will need from within your existing ABEL software database.

Here are seven quantifiable measures that will help you zero in on areas of opportunity. The formulas presented assume all parameters used are for the same time period.

Internal Processes KPI Chart

If you find your own numbers falling short of industry benchmarks, consider some of these short- and long-term initiatives:

  • Track patient appointment history and be proactive in bookings, confirmations and reminders
  • Communicate and apply cancellation policies
  • Book next appointments before the patient leaves the office
  • Emphasize the value of preventative measures with patients
  • Monitor production reports
  • Follow up regarding outstanding treatment plans and recalls
  • Establish and follow strict diagnostic protocols
  • Provide effective case presentations
  • Employ in-house specialists as much as possible
  • Provide advanced clinical training/continuing education
  • Provide and refresh staff customer service training

I hope this detailed information is helpful, or that at least it gets you thinking about your own internal processes. These KPIs are just one of the categories of the strategic practice management we champion. I invite you to continue this conversation by attending one of our webinars or by reaching out to a member of our team at any time.