Missed Appointments: To Charge, or Not to Charge. That, is the question.

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Operating a dental practice is always a challenge. You have many huge decisions about all aspects of the business. Decisions that affect your bottom line are often the most important. After all, if the practice is not profitable, there is no point in staying in business. When your patients make an appointment and show up as planned, you have an income you can count on; however, occasionally you will have a patient fail to show up. This creates a problem because you now have staff on the clock that are being paid, and no patient paying a bill!

Should You Charge for a Missed Appointment

Because of this concern, some offices charge for missed appointments. The AMA has deemed that this is ethical, so there are no problems there. Since the AMA says it is okay, is this fee something you should consider too? Check out some of the pros and cons charging for missed appointments, and you can make a smart decision about your practice too.

The Benefits

Needless to say, there are many benefits to charging patients for a missed appointment—some of these include:

  • Your patients will realize that the physician’s time is valuable and encourage respect of this time.
  • If your practice is busy, it can help you assure that patients who need care the most have access to it. After all, patients are less likely to make unneeded appointments when they realize there is a penalty for missing the appointment.
  • Charging for missed appointments encourage patients to be proactive about their health and can prevent unnecessary cancellations or no-shows.
  • The charge for a missed appointment can help the practice recoup lost revenue that occurs when a patient does not arrive as expected.
  • Each time your patient shows up instead of canceling, it saves the time and effort of your front office staff needing to track down the patient and re-schedule.

The Drawbacks

On the other hand, there are drawbacks to the practice of charging for missed appointments. It is vital that you consider these too, before implementing significant policy change.

  • Some patients may not be comfortable with these fees—it could lead to a loss of some patients.
  • Your employees may have to deal with angry phone calls when patients receive a bill for missed appointments.
  • The billing (and potentially collections) process involved with charging for missed appointments takes time for your office staff to complete.
  • You may or may not be able to bill insurers for missed appointment fees. You will have to research if it is feasible before you begin charging.
  • If your office runs behind schedule regularly, it can create a feeling of animosity in your patients—since they are billed for missing an appointment they may feel like your office should be billed too!

Best Practices for Missed Appointments

Keep in mind that these best practices are simply things that we have seen have the biggest affect on missed appointments. These may or may not be the right solution for your practice.

Make the appropriate changes to your confirmation system

  • Use assumptive language whenever possible. Assuming the patient will be there goes a long way in making that actually happen.
  • Start the confirmation process a couple weeks prior to the appointment to allow time to fill cancelled appointments.
  • Use two way texting to allow for easier communication between your office and the patient.

Check our Weave’s appointment confirmation system to see just how easy these integrations can be.

Educate Patients on the Value of Their Appointment

  • Patients who understand the benefit they are getting from an appointment are less likely to cancel.
  • Create a demand for your doctor’s time. Scarcity is a major motivator!

Never Infer that Cancellations Happen

We often accidentally put the thought into our patients minds that cancellations are normal in our office. Think about that phone call that your front office takes that says, “I can’t make it in today because I got called into work”. Chances are that the front office person, in an effort to empathize with the patient says something like, “oh, I totally understand”. This can communicate to the patient that this type of thing happens often. Instead, try something like this, “I’m so sorry to hear that!”. It gets the same point across without communicating that cancellations are normal.

Another situation to be aware of is the ASAP list. Sometimes when a patient wants to get in as quickly as possible, we tell them we will put them on the ASAP list and that we will call them if anyone cancels. This is communicating that cancellations happen. Instead, we should be saying that we will call them if we have any earlier availabilities.

These are just two situations where we subtly communicate that cancellations are normal. Think about the interactions in your office and figure out a way to remove the notion that cancellations happen.

These are just a few tips to reduce cancellations in your practice. I’m sure there are dozens of others out there. At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide if you are going to charge for cancellations or not.

If you would like to discover more about how Weave can help you build your practice and strengthen patient relationships, visit our website for a free, no obligation demo. We would love to help you take your practice operations to the next level.

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