What To Do When Patients Are Not Answering Or Returning Communications

A member asked me for help and I wanted to share this with everyone.

“Right now we have a Huge number of patients that are non responsive to calls/texts I know in some of my forums other office managers are pulling their hair out too but if the pt isn’t calling or texting or being responsive. even my experienced front desk girl is having problems. She’s been with me 7 years but the patients are not answering, returning calls or responding to texts. Our hygiene schedule is pretty open.” 

How do we handle unresponsive patient communications? 

This is a big issue and I am seeing it in many of the groups online too.  If this was an easy solution, there wouldn’t be so much frustration around it.  I think that there is not just one right answer so I am going to attempt to give options for solutions to try to help with this.  

1. Understand The Times

We need to recognize that there is a ton of odd stuff going on in everyone’s lives right now.  Between people being afraid to get sick, homeschooling kids, taking care of family members, working from home, not working at all, etc… there is a lot more in people’s lives than ever before to deal with.  The reason that I bring this up is because we need to recognize that calling the dentist back when we leave a message might not be the highest on their priority list.  What used to work for us in the past, might not work right now because our patients have a lot going on.  Therefore, you might need to call a bit more or find other ways to reach them.  Consider online scheduling, text messaging, calling at different times of day, changing what you say in the message, etc…. The goal here is to either confirm the patient, reschedule the patient, or to get them to schedule, so have your team get creative around what works and remember what works for one patient might not be the same for another.  The ultimate goal is #buttsinthechair.  

2. Shake The Flakes

This time of the year is a lot like the end of the year when we are trying to determine who is really going to come in for their appointments, who is going to cancel or no show last minute and who really wants to get in.  There needs to be a bit more “proactive” management of the schedule during this time.  Don’t just rely on the fact that there is an appointment in there.  If your team is worried about them then go with your instinct and do what is needed to either confirm them or move them out of the schedule.  I actually do have a video called “shake the flakes” which is a good one to watch, to help your team determine who to move out of the schedule so you don’t end up with a schedule that falls apart last minute.  Then once you have a better idea of who is really coming to the appointments, you can proactively decide what to do with the schedule if it is not full.  It might be a good time to schedule team training, have a clinical team help front office team get caught up, have each team member do some Front Office Rocks video training, record “how-to” videos for training new employees in the future, etc… 

3. Reactivate, Recruit, and Reach out.  

The schedule is going to become light in the next few months and knowing that, it is important that your office focuses on getting new patients in, getting inactive patients back, and reaches out to everyone that has outstanding treatment.  This is not a time to sit back and wait for patients to call.  Find creative ways to get everyone on the phone, working at getting new patients, running a “special” to get patients to come in, or calling patients to discuss their needed treatment.  Outbound communication is vital right now. 

4. Utilize technology. 

Whether it is trying to get more new patients or get your patients back in, make sure you are using technology to its fullest.  Get with your marketing company to make sure you are doing everything you can to reach new patients online.  Work with your patient communication software to ensure that you are reaching out to your patients in a quick and easy manner to fill the schedule.  Research all the options with the companies you work with to help you manage your patients and schedule to learn the latest way to use the software to help you with both confirming patients and getting more patient to schedule. 

5. Attitude makes a difference too. 

This one is a bit harder to explain but I think it is worth mentioning.  If you or your team has an attitude that something will or won’t happen then more than likely that will be the case.  If your team has taken on the belief that patients are not calling back right now, then guess what, patients won’t call back.  If your office is thinking that the next few weeks or months will be slower because the schedule is harder to fill then that will be the case.  I suggest that you check the pulse of you, your doctor and your team.  If the thought process is that it is bad, then find ways to turn that around.  Find ways to get creative with your team, to have them feel positive about their ability to manage through this, and finally, to have some fun! 

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.