Originally published in the June 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News
Think about your last visit to the dentist. Before you left, the receptionist scheduled your next hygiene appointment. This scheduling technique serves dual purposes of safeguarding patients' preventive care and the practice's financial health. The patient strategy ensures timely visits for professional care as well as to diagnose oral problems early. The hygienist also sends you home with toothpaste, floss and a toothbrush to reinforce preventive oral care at home.
As a business strategy for dentists, scheduling the next visit today will keep the hygiene schedule full and productive. When the hygiene schedule is not full, a domino affect will occur. Patient suffers without timely hygiene appointments, and the dentist will see openings in the treatment schedule in the future. At least 80 percent of dental problems — root canals, crowns and restorations — come from hygiene appointments. Dentists refer to their system as "recare appointments." When patients leave today's hygiene appointment without a future one scheduled, a dental practice's profits will decrease at least 50 percent.2
Dentists have shifted patients' perceptions from only going to the dentist for a toothache to routine preventive care. Savvy veterinarians should follow dentists' lead. According to the 2015 American Animal Hospital Association State of the Industry report, six out of 10 pet owners would forward book their pets' preventive care exams.1 Here's how to proactively schedule your patients:
Book the Next Exam at Checkout
Tell clients, "Just as your dentist has you schedule your next hygiene appointment at checkout, we do the same so we can proactively manage your pet's health. Dr. [Name] can see you on Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. or Friday, Sept. 11 at 3 p.m. for your pet's next preventive care exam. Which fits your schedule?"
Known as the two-yes-options technique, this phrasing leads clients to book future exams. Also use the term "preventive care exam" instead of "wellness exam." For example, I have two young, healthy indoor cats. A typical pet owner might assume their indoor cats live in a perfectly protected environment and don't need wellness checkups. "Wellness exam" sounds optional, while the term "preventive care exam" is actionable.
If a procrastinator doesn't want to book the next appointment, be persistent. Have the receptionist say, "I understand that you don't know your schedule 12 months from today. Let's schedule your pet's next preventive care exam for this same day and time next year. We will contact you one week before the appointment to confirm, so if you need to change the exam it will be easy. By scheduling today, you'll get your first choice of doctor, day and time. Your appointment reminder for Thursday, June 30, 2016 at 10 a.m. will print on today's receipt."
This sample schedule uses orange for forward-booked exams and brown for sick patients.
|Exam Time||Dr. <Name>|
|9:00 a.m.||20 min., forward-booked preventive care
Debbie Arvanitis (existing client)
Mason, dog, Newfoundland
Adult preventive care exam
|9:20 a.m.||Available for 30-minute sick-patient exam|
|9:50 a.m.||30 min., forward-booked preventive care
Dale Richmond (existing client)
Snoopy, dog, Beagle
Senior preventive care exam
Create Expectations for Follow-Up Care
Let's say a client visits today for her dog's annual checkup. The veterinarian discovers an ear infection and wants to examine the patient again in two weeks. Both the doctor and receptionist need to create expectations for follow-up care.
After explaining the diagnosis and treatment in the exam room, the doctor would say, "I will need to see your dog again in two weeks for a medical progress exam, which would be on <date>. I will examine your dog again to make sure the ear infection has healed. Follow-up care is important because ear infections can be painful and recur. The receptionist will make your appointment for <date> during checkout."
Use the term "medical progress exam" instead of "recheck." From a pet owner's perspective, "recheck" sounds free and optional. Upgrade your terminology to "medical progress exam" to communicate value for professional services.
During checkout, the receptionist will schedule the medical progress exam before collecting payment for today's services. Then the appointment reminder will print on the receipt and you'll avoid the pet owner's hesitation to schedule if she hears today's price first. The receptionist would say, "Dr. <Name> needs to see your dog again in two weeks for a medical progress exam for his ear infection. Let's schedule his exam first, and then I'll get you checked out for today's services. Two weeks from today would be <date>. Does this same time, 10 a.m., work for you?"
For progress exams, strive for "same day, same time, same doctor." If the client is here at 10 a.m. on a Thursday, she can probably visit again at a similar time and day of the week. Book the appointment with the same veterinarian, ensuring continuity of care and efficient use of exam time. When your team makes a habit of "schedule first, pay last," more patients will get needed follow-up care.
If the client doesn't schedule the progress exam at checkout, enter a callback in your practice-management software. Call the client one week before services are due. The receptionist would say, "Dr. <Name> asked me to call you to schedule <pet name's> medical progress exam for his ear infection. Dr. <Name> has an exam available at 10 a.m. next Thursday or 3 p.m. next Friday. Which choice works for you?" Again, use the two-yes-options scheduling technique. The first appointment choice is the same time and day of the week as the previous exam, while the second choice is a different day and an afternoon rather than morning exam.
Use a Color Code for Forward-Booked Exams
When booking exams six months or more ahead, call clients one to two weeks in advance to confirm in case appointments need to be rescheduled. Use a unique color code in your practice-management software so you can identify appointments that were booked far in advance. Shifting to earlier appointment confirmation calls or emails will allow you to reschedule if necessary. After all, rescheduling appointments is better than having no future appointments.
Forward-booking exams has another advantage. Pre-blocking your schedule lets you plan for efficient, timely visits. Aim for the scheduling pattern of preventive care/sick/preventive care. You're more likely to stay on time if you sandwich a sick-patient exam between two preventive care appointments.
Confirm Forward-Booked Exams Earlier
To avoid no-shows or cancelations for forward-booked preventive care exams, confirm them one to two weeks in advance. Each Monday, receptionists would look at next week's schedule and call or email pet owners to confirm all orange exams. By confirming forward-booked exams in advance, you can reschedule appointments if necessary. After all, it's better to move appointments rather than have no future exams.
When confirming forward-booked exams, receptionists would say, "This is <name> calling from <Your Veterinary Hospital> to confirm your pet's preventive care exam with Dr. <Name> next week on <date> beginning at 10 a.m. Please remember to bring a teaspoon-sized stool sample that's fresh within ___ hours, as well as any medications and supplements you're currently giving your pet. If you have questions or need to reschedule, please call us at 555-555-5555. We also will call you two days before the exam as a courtesy reminder."
Call to confirm recently booked appointments two days in advance. Send email or text notices four days ahead because clients may not check personal emails daily. If clients confirm appointments from emails or texts, you don't need to call two days before, which can reduce the number of phone calls your client service team needs to make.
When your team implements proactive scheduling, you'll be better patient advocates and guarantee return client visits. Forward-booking exams has decades of proven success in human dental offices. Embracing this trend will ensure the health of your veterinary practice as well as your patients.
- AAHA State of the Industry 2015. Accessed 04-14-15 at www.aaha.org/professional/media/aaha_state_of_the_industry_2015.aspx#gsc.tab=0.
- Seidel-Bittke, D. Tips for Strengthening your Recare System, www.dentalheroes.com/recare-system-tips/, accessed 06-28-12.