Dentist appointments aren’t known for being much fun, so it’s no surprise that dentists frequently have to deal with missed appointments.
But their dental management strategies vary considerably. Some ignore the transgression, some charge a fee, and others just let the patient go.
“We typically don’t fire patients. They fire themselves since many times they will not pay the missed appointment fees and their account is sent to collections. Patients on Medicaid get one chance due to the excessive write-offs we incur,” said a South Dakota pediatric dentist.
“Time is money!” declared an Alabama dentist. “My letter to the patient who I am dismissing is actually very nice. It states that our priorities do not match and that they would be better served by another dentist and to please let us know where to forward their records. A lot of times, the patient begs us to let them come back and they become our best patients ever!”
Jim Du Molin and Julie Frey reveal survey results about how dentists handle missed appointments:
In this survey, 36% of dentists said they never charge for missed dental appointments. Only 5% charge a fee for the first offense, while most wait until the second or third missed appointment to levy a fee.
What is the average missed appointment fee?
Missed appointment fees ranged from $25.00 for the first no-show to $150. This survey found the average fee to be $55.00.
How many dentists “fire” patients who chronically miss appointments?
One in three dentists will fire a patient who misses three appointments, while 42% of dentists say they rarely or never fire patients.
It’s important for every dentist to have a policy for handling missed appointments. Of course, it also helps to offer reminders so patients are less likely to miss their appointments in the first place.
“We just TELL patients that there’s a missed appointment fee; that usually creates enough motivation for them to keep their appointments. Legally, dentists can’t really make a missed appointment fee stick in California. How would you enforce it? A patient could pay the fee, then would have a valid cause for legal action in small claims court since no value was received for the fee. I can’t begin to describe what a wonderful public relations exercise such a confrontation would be for a dental practice,” said a California dentist.
“I have found that missed appointment fees do work. Those who are serious patients will acknowledge that they can’t disrespect my time. Those who get a chip on their shoulder about the charge may not come back. Do you think I care? They are the ones that would do it time and time again and waste my staffs’ and my time,” offered a California dentist.
“We don’t set up another appointment, but we will call them at the last minute when an appointment opens up. If it is a longer or high production appointment, we will have them leave a deposit. Sometimes we just raise their fees, maybe to the point that they leave on their own,” said a Texas dentist. “Only your good patients would pay for a missed appointment. You want to make them mad? It’s too easy to find another dentist – not as good of course! – but still easy when there is friction.”
“After three missed appointments, we will not reschedule unless they prepay in full for whatever the appointment is for. It works great,” said a Colorado dentist. “We have a great practice, and people know the value that they receive here.”
In general, the patients who skip appointments aren’t necessarily the patients you really want.
But even the most loyal patients get sick, or have a flat tire, or just space out sometimes. Remember, you can exercise discretion in enforcing your missed appointment policy, especially when it comes to long-term patients.