I get asked a lot about what the best cancellation / no-show “policy” is. With nearly 30 years of research, trial and error, here it is…
But before it is revealed, let me share some secrets!
1. Most “policies” are born out of frustration with poor patient behavior. Just take a look at the front office window of your typical physician. It is littered with the policies of the day like: “Payment is expected on day services are performed.” “You must fill out updated insurance information on EVERY visit.” “We no longer accept checks.” Etc., etc. Whatever the policy, the underlying message is usually, “Our patients think so little of us and treat us so badly, we have had to come up with a checklist of do’s and don’ts to survive.”
2. It is a funny thing about life. You most often get what you expect. If the message you send with all of your “policies” is that your patients’ behavior is pretty bad, you’ll most likely get more of it! Every policy sends a message of what “most patients do.” Since people tend to follow the crowd, every policy sends the message of what the crowd tends to do or wants to do.
3. You can’t focus on the opposite of an idea. If I told NOT to think of the Statue of Liberty, it would be impossible. The mere mention of the object immediately creates an image in your mind that you cannot erase unless you replace it with a different image or different idea. Translation: you can’t talk about NOT cancelling without planting the seed of a cancellation.
Here’s the bottom line: Let’s say your “cancellation policy” is that patients must call your office 24 hours in advance to cancel or change an appointment or they will be charged a fee. Guess what? That is not a “cancellation policy” or prevention tactic. It is a cancellation invitation. Why? Because you just said to your patients, “When you make a commitment to an appointment, it is really not a commitment until the day of the appointment. So change it any time! Make us crazy so we have to constantly try to fill the appointment book at the last minute.”
So what’s the best “cancellation policy? No cancellation policy at all! Crazy? Maybe. But before you dismiss the idea, consider the following:
What if you raised your expectations of what you expect from your patients by expecting the best. For example, instead of your appointment card having your “cancellation policy” it says instead:
“You have a confirmed reservation with (Name of your office.) (Name of patient) Your reserved appointment is on: (Day), (Date), (Time). Please mark this important appointment on your calendar today. We look forward to seeing you at this time that has been reserved especially for you.”
What’s the underlying message here? “We are making a commitment to you and we know that you are making the commitment to us and we know we can count on you.” That is a higher level of relationship than telling someone you are going to charge him or her when or if there is a no-show or cancellation. It places you in a higher-level category in their mind and separates you from any other dental office they may have been to in the past.
Finally, what kind of relationship do you have or do you want to have with your patients? If your goal is to have a relationship of trust and respect, then create it. For example, if you set a lunch date with a trusted friend or mentor, you would never consider sending them an email or text that says: “I’m really busy so if you don’t show up or change this at the last minute, I am sending you a bill for the lunch anyway!” You would never do that to someone you respect. You might consider the same for your patients. How much do you really respect them? If the answer is “not much,” your patients probably don’t respect you or your practice much either.
So as you reconsider your “cancellation policy,” have a conversation with the entire team about what you really believe about your patients and their behavior. What do you expect from them? What would happen if you raised your expectations? Would they respond accordingly?
Consider it and raise your expectations. You may be surprised how your patients treat you better!
Make it happen!
P.S. Your “Cancellation Policy” and wording on your appointment card are all part of a much more extensive plan to “Stop Cancellations” including verbal skills for everyone on the team, “confirmation call” wording, and how to handle “frequent offenders.” For more information on how to “Stop Cancellations” contact the Total Patient Service Institute team at 1-877-399-8677, Answers@TotalPatientService.com or download the FREE Special Report “STOP Cancellations” at www.TotalPatientService.com