Why recall should be a priority in your practice

Many practices I work with just don’t put enough effort into their recall system—and they’re struggling because of it. They tend to send out generic postcards to patients they haven’t seen in a while and think that will be enough to get them back in the chair. It’s not. That postcard with puppies or hot air balloons is more likely to go straight to the recycling bin than to prompt past due patients to call your office. 

If you want to get once active patients back on the schedule, you’re going to have to spend some time re-energizing the recall system. And it’s well worth it. Even though practices tend to ignore recall, investing in this neglected system is one of the best, most effective ways to increase practice revenues. That’s why now is the time to make it a priority in your practice. 

The truth is, ignoring the recall system is actually hurting your practice. Here’s how: 

It’s costing you patients. While it’s important to attract new patients to your practice, you also have to find ways to keep them coming back. All-too-often first-time patients are never heard from again, and the team has no idea why. A strong recall program can help the practice get them, and any other patients who seem to have fallen off the face of the earth, back. 

According to industry benchmarks, patient retention numbers should be between 85 and 95 percent. If your practice is nowhere near that range, it’s a sure sign your recall system needs revamped. One way to do that is to put one team member in charge of this critical system. Task the team member with calling a certain number of past due patients a day, and getting those patients on the schedule. He or she should be armed with a script and ready to address any perceived barriers to care or other patient concerns during these calls. 

I also suggest sending out professional marketing materials to inactive patients to remind them about all the great services the practice provides, and of the importance of maintaining their oral health. These materials will be much more likely to get their attention than generic postcards, and that will help get long-lost patients back in the chair. 

Practice referrals are likely down. If patients haven’t been to the office for months, there’s a good chance they’re not referring the practice to family and friends either. That lost opportunity costs the practice big. 

Reaching out to recall patients to educate them about their condition and the importance of maintaining their oral health also goes a long way in building relationships. Patients will appreciate the fact a team member took the time to call and will start to feel more of a connection to the practice. And when patients feel a connection to the practice, they’re more likely to schedule—and to refer.  

Weak recall leads to broken appointments. When your practice has a weak recall system, cancellations and no-shows tend to become a common occurrence. This brings stress to everyone’s day while also costing the practice money. Why? Part of the problem stems from pre-appointing. 

Most Scheduling Coordinators are trained to schedule patients six months out. While that might be how things have been done for years, it leads to problems with the practice schedule and the recall system. That’s because most patients have no idea what they’re doing on a random Thursday six months from now. So even though they schedule an appointment before they leave, there’s a good chance they’ll forget all about it or something else they deem more important will come up, and they’ll cancel at the last minute.  

Pre-appointing also gives the illusion the schedule is full, when it really isn’t. So the team sees no reason to work the recall system until, of course, it’s time to scramble to fill the open slots broken appointments leave. Then there are the patients who actually want to schedule treatment. They have to wait weeks to see the dentist because, again, the schedule appears to be full. Some patients may decide not to wait, and will look for an office that can get them in sooner. 

To fix all of this, I suggest developing a hybrid method of scheduling. Only pre-appoint patients who have a history of showing up. Schedule the rest a few weeks before they’re due. This opens up slots for patients ready for treatment, and reduces the number of broken appointments the dental team has to deal with. 

You’re not meeting production goals. If you don’t have a steady flow of patients in the chair all day, production numbers will suffer. The practice loses money, which brings stress and frustration to everyone on the team. When recall is a priority, more patients schedule treatment. The practice stays productive, making the days both more rewarding and more profitable. 

Ignoring recall won’t do your practice any favors. In fact, it may hurt it. Make it a priority and start reaping the many benefits a healthy recall system can bring.  


Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, www.mckenziemgmt.com, a full-service, nation-wide dental practice management company. Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

Dental Billing Tips and News for Pros; Edition #142


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