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How to Deal with Late Dental Patients

Dovetail Lateness

Scheduling is an essential part of every dental clinic. The goal is to have an efficient schedule where everything runs on time and no one is late. You see your patients as scheduled and use your resources (practice rooms, staff and equipment) to the maximum potential. After all everyone likes to eat lunch and go home on time right?

But we all know that real life isn’t so neat and tidy. Sometimes patients or one of your employees is running late due to traffic. Some client doesn’t show up when they’re supposed to and throws your entire schedule into disarray. Or maybe a procedure took longer than estimated. Whatever the reason, even a small delay can set off a chain of events that results in overtime for the office.

Set Goals and Expectations

Before we talk about dealing with late patients, you need to have a solid policy regarding no-shows, late arrivals and other scheduling events. If you disrespect your patients’ time and regularly make them wait, then you cannot expect them to show up correctly for their appointment either. How does your office deal with patients who are more than 10 minutes late for their appointment? How much notice should patients give you if they are unable to show up?

Write down the policy and make sure all your patients  – as well as employees – know what is expected of them. Instruct the front desk on the duration of appointment slots for different staff members. Not all hygienists take the same amount of time for all types of patients. For instance, small children or preteens don’t need the full one hour you set aside for adults. Recall appointments may be shorter than regular visits and so on.

So if a patient cancels, the receptionist should know how much time is left for rescheduling with someone else. This way you avoid situations where an adult is scheduled for a timeslot previously occupied by a child. It results in fewer stressful situations and prevents delays throughout the workday.

Dealing with Late Dental Patients

In spite of your best efforts, patients will sometimes be late for appointments. How can you deal with such situations? Some clients are habitually late and never show up on time. If you have a written policy for scheduling events like this one, stick to it. Do you skip a few procedures to fit them in anyway? Or will you bill them for the extra time? How long will you wait before giving away their slot to someone else?

What you can do will depend on the amount of delay and whether or not they have notified your office. Explain to the patient that since they are late by ten minutes, the hygienist or the doctor may not be able to perform all the scheduled procedures. If the doctor’s next appointment slot is empty, you may choose to complete all procedures and bill them for the extra time. If not you can make a follow-up appointment with the patient.

If the patient is very late and has not notified your office, you may reschedule another client for the same slot. Some people get upset when this happens but you should explain your policy in a calm and professional manner. This is why it is important to have a written policy in place. You don’t want your patients to think you make up rules on the spur of the moment or the system is unfair.

Even the best laid plans can go awry because of factors that are outside your control. The solution is to have contingencies and systems in place for dealing with such situations before they happen.

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