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March 6th, 2018

Planning the Unplanned: Handling No-Show & Late Patients

By Angela Davis-Sullivan, PDA Business Development Coach

At the start of your day, the schedule is full and running smoothly. Then, a patient fails to show up. Your team scrambles: what do they do, who do they call, how do they handle this? No one seems to know what to do, leaving everyone stressed.

If this is a familiar scene, then you’re not alone. While there’s nothing you can do to avoid a late or no-show patient, how you react to it will make all the difference in keeping your team on track and focused, and making your patients feel cared for and important.

Develop a Late and No-Show Patient Plan
Having a plan in place ensures that your staff knows exactly what to do when a patient is late. This plan, which should be agreed on by the whole team, will establish a protocol and answer questions like who calls the patient, what should be said, and what to do if the patient shows up late.

Here are some questions and suggestions for getting your late and no-show plan off to the right start.

  1. First, establish a time when you consider a patient “late.” For example, five minutes after the scheduled appointment time.
  2. Second, determine who makes the patient check-up call. Ideally, this should be the team member the patient is scheduled with. An admin or front desk team member can help support or assist with making the phone call if needed.
  3. Next, when a patient does show up late, what’s the plan? Yes, it’s frustrating to the team to have a late patient but follow the plan you’ve set up to avoid stress. Remember to make sure the patient feels welcome and valued.

Late Patient Phone Protocol
A patient is late, so your staff needs to make the check-in call. Make sure they know what to say so the patient feels important, not that they are receiving a reminder that they are late. Specifically, the call should be a courtesy that expresses your concern for them.

  • If your staff needs to leave a message: “Hi Ms. Davis, this is Angela at Dr. Smith’s office. We were expecting you at 10 and its now 10:05 and I was concerned about you. If you are on your way, we will see you soon, otherwise give me a call as soon as you get this message. You can reach me at 123-456-7890. Thank you.”
  • If the patient answers the phone: “Hi Ms. Davis, this is Angela at Dr. Smith’s office, is everything OK? We were expecting you at 9. Glad you are on your way, we will see you when you get here.”
  • If the patient forgot or is not coming: “Is everything ok? Is there anything I can personally do to get you here? I have you reserved with Michelle for the whole hour. Then let me help find you another time that’s more convenient for you. Let’s double-check your schedule to find a time that works best for you.”

Ideally, you want to reschedule them while you have them on the phone. You don’t have to offer them something right away. A day that is a few weeks out, or longer if necessary, is perfectly fine. Make the appointment, and then let them know if you have an opportunity become available sooner, you would be happy to call them.

Tip 1: Another good action point for helping prevent late and no-show appointments is to make sure you have a system in place to remind patients of their upcoming appointment (24-48 hours prior to their appointment time).

Tip 2: Take note of the patients who are late. A note in their chart often works well. That way, you can track patients who are notoriously late so your team can anticipate them.

Tip 3: Always make sure you are doing everything possible to create value for those future appointments. Take the time when scheduling to reinforce the importance of the treatment, or the reason. For future hygiene appointments, let the patient know what to expect that visit. Ensure that the why is documented, so team members can reinforce that with the patient at a later date.

Handling Late Patient Arrivals
A patient just walked in the door…ten minutes after their appointment was supposed to start. Does your team know to handle this late patient, support each other in the process, and make the patient feel cared for and valued?

When the patient does make it in, don’t waste time telling them they are late. They know. It might be tempting for front desk team members to tell the patient “Let me see if we can still see you,” or “Let me reschedule you,” or “Let me see if the hygienist is still available.” These phrases only reinforce the fact that the patient is late.
The best response to a late patient to greet them warmly, tell them you are glad they made it, and do what you can for them in the time that remains.

One important thing to keep in mind is to take care of the patient in front of you, even if that patient is late. You don’t want to turn away the patient in front of you…and then have the next patient be late or not show, too. It’s not convenient for you that the patient was late. But they did care enough to make it in. So, don’t lose them! Do what you can for them in the time you have, and if there is more that needs to happen, you can find them an additional appointment time.

Was this article helpful? Could you and your team benefit from more in-depth business coaching and training? Attend a PDA Productivity Workshop to get your team on the right track, working together, and improving their care of patients. The next Productivity Workshop is being help May 3-5 in Forth Worth, TX.

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