Patient follow ups are that in-between or bridge between a booked appointment and the actual appointment. The patient has an appointment, but we want to ensure they don't miss it. If they miss their appointment, we will need to fill that opening quickly and re-book them for a new appointment. Both of these tasks are unnecessary if you are proactive and remind your patients of their appointment effectively. This could be a task for your scheduling coordinator but not necessarily.
Who is responsible for following up?
In your practice you have two main teams, your front office and back office. In these two teams, who is responsible for follow ups?
It's a trick questions, they both are!
There are defined roles, but there are key people from each team who should be following up.
Your scheduling coordinator and your hygienists should be sending follow ups. Scheduling coordinators will be doing the main amount of work when it come to following up. They'll be keeping the schedule full and updating processes and systems. When it comes to hygiene appointments, it is effective for the hygienists who have been working with that client to follow up with them.
When your hygiene department has time, they should be reaching out to clients. They have more relationship and can clearly explain the importance of coming in for their next hygiene appointment. The goal for this is that the hygiene department stays busy and needs to make follow-ups as little as possible.
Ideally your back office staff is educating the importance of coming in routinely and pre-appointing their next visit. All of this is especially important if you don't have a dedicated scheduling coordinator who's job is to focus on follow-ups. Most scheduling coordinators are working more than one role, and are also at the front desk or doing office assistant tasks. Bringing hygiene in to help follow up/send reminders ensures that everyone is being followed up with, not just who they have time for. Your scheduling coordinator, whether they are full time or part time, should be in charge of overseeing all follow-ups.
When will you follow up?
Scheduling coordinators should be following up with patients every day. Building this into a routine keeps the work from piling up. If you are using automations, it allows time for you to check on your automated messages, to see if anyone has re-scheduled, or if anyone needs to be added to your lists.
When you follow up varies by your practice. It's recommended to follow up at least 3 times. Common practice is sending an appointment reminder 3 weeks prior, the week of, and then 24 hours before. What you're looking for with these reminders is a confirmation that they will be at their appointment. You are also looking for them to be at their appointment.
As a patient, when you pre-appoint a hygiene appointment that's 6 months away, it can be easy to forget when it is. Follow-ups should remind you with lots of time in advance to fit your appointment into your schedule or re-schedule it for a better time.
Using an automation software will make follow-ups much easier. You can use them to do all your follow up work or only partially. An automated follow up system can send instant or scheduled communications such as email, text, calls and mail. You can template what it is that you want to say or customize it. Then, you can schedule which form of communication and when you want it to go out.
How will you schedule them?
When you are a scheduling coordinator but also working the front desk or another role, it can actually be very efficient depending on how you schedule them.
The goal is to have a full schedule. Hopefully your team is successful with pre-appointing most of your patients. Meaning, before they walk out you know when they'll be walking back in. You've also asked them how they'd like to be reminded and set up reminders before they even leave. This means that if everything goes right, the next communication you have is when they are back in for their next appointment.
If they are scheduled, but when they receive a reminder realize they need to reschedule, a great option is for them to reschedule themselves online instead of over the phone. Don't give them an option to cancel. If they want to cancel, have them call in so you can speak to them and hopefully keep them an active patient.
Letting a patient schedule their own appointment is a convenience feature. When they are the one doing the scheduling, it creates less work for you but is still getting appointments on the calendar.
What will you say in your follow up?
Your follow up letter should be friendly, educational, and confident. Dental follow up letters are a great opportunity to remind and educate your patients, if you can mention something specific to them...such as when their child should have their first appointment.
The next follow up could be a call asking them to confirm their appointment. If they confirm their appointment, the last reminder could be a quick text message letting them know you are excited to see them in 24 hours! Each of these said something different but they'll work together to get them back in the practice.
Why are you following up?
What are the benefits for following up for the practice and for the patient? Each completed appointment should be seen as a win-win. Your practice's numbers stay up and a patient received great oral care. Follow ups reduce work and broken appointments for your practice. According to Solution Reach, appointment reminders reduce patient no-shows by up to 85%.
If you've done your re-search before following up you'll know what they need done or will need done. You'll also know whether or not they have insurance. If so, you can find out how they make the best use of it. This is something you can customize in your follow up letter to educate them. It's an added value to them...to come to your practice and for them to be receive care at your practice.
Today we talked about the who, when, what, and why. We wanted to dig a little deeper and beyond just who should be following up. We also wanted to cover when they would, why they would, how they would, and what they would say. The most important part of patient reminders and follow-ups are: whomever is assigned to it is empowered, takes full ownership, and completes their tasks!