10 Tips to Control Broken Appointments

Sandy Pardue

The majority of broken appointments occur due to the lack of control by the practice. I’m referring to the lack of firm financial policies, patient education and adding value to the visit. For example, if the hygienist is spending 80% of her time with the patient talking about her wedding, and 20% of the time talking about dentistry, the patient will see little value in their visit. Those percentages should be the other way around. The majority of the time should be about dentistry and what is occurring in the patient’s mouth.

The following tips will help you have better control over broken appointments.


1) Educate the patient when the needed treatment is being diagnosed. Tell them what will happen if they put off the procedure. Let them know it will cost more if they wait. Let them know their condition will not go away on its own. It will get worse.

2) Have a firm financial agreement with the patient before you make the appointment.

3) Know that the treatment plan and the financial

arrangement are very different activities and require different documents. You should go over each one with the patient and have them sign each one separately. This will avoid concerns about how they will pay for it or how much it will cost.

4) Ask the patient how you can reach them during the day and get that number, so you can give them a courtesy call the day before the appointment. Many times patients provide numbers, none of which they can be reached at.

5) Don’t continue scheduling patients that are compulsive appointment breakers. Be familiar with their broken appointment history before appointing them. They will continue doing the same thing over and over again. These folks do better when placed on a “short notice call list” and called when there is a change in the schedule.

6) Remove the word “cancel” from your vocabulary. Make patients think it rarely happens. Avoid statements like “I will call you when/if we get a “Cancellation.” Use the word “change” instead.

7) Let the patient know you are saving the time just for them. Patients are used to going to their physician’s office and having to wait, let them know the dental office schedules differently.

8) Always confirm early in the day, the day before the appointment. Don’t confirm too soon. You will find that the more control you have over your schedule, the more comfortable you will be with confirming the day before. When you get the patient on the phone the most effective verbal skill is, “Hello Lisa, we are looking forward to seeing you at 10 a.m. tomorrow for a root canal. We have an hour saved for you.” If this person was educated on root canals being a routine procedure, this patient’s fear should be handled. Many times “fear” is the reason they call back to cancel.

9) Send cards to patients scheduled on Mondays, especially after a long weekend. The message should say, “We hope you are enjoying your weekend. We are looking forward to seeing you on Monday.” They should receive the card on Friday or Saturday. Your practice should mail it on Thursday after the confirmation call.

10) Never consider voice mails and messages left a confirmed appointment. You must hear back from the patient.