Sometimes You Need to Be the “Heavy”

Most doctors and teams can easily name the patients who frequently cancel.  When you see those names on the schedule you are tempted to call Las Vegas to get the over-under on whether the patient will actually show up.

Memories of late afternoon phone calls that obliterate the next day’s schedule and the ensuing scramble to patch it back together are not soon forgotten; neither is the lost production.  But the feeling that is toughest to shake is the lack of respect the frequent cancellers have for your time and the services you provide.

Remember that people tend you push you as far as you allow them.  If you want to decrease the number of inconsiderate cancellations, you sometimes need to be the “heavy,” which means you have to address the problem directly with the patient.

Fortunately, you do not need to enter the operatory wielding a sword to get your point across.  Instead, as you conclude your exam or finish up with treatment you can address the issue with a simple conversation.  Consider saying, “John, I need your cooperation.  As you may know, when we reserve appointment time, we reserve it just for you.  Short-notice changes to the schedule are very difficult to fill.  I need your help to make sure you keep your appointments.”

Most patients respond favorably to the conversation because you help them understand the value of your time.  You also establish clear boundaries.  I work with several practices where the doctor is not comfortable having this talk, but the assistant or hygienist is very effective at getting the point across appropriately.  The important part is to have the conversation.  If you want to reduce inconsiderate cancellations, someone needs to be the “heavy.”

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