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How to avoid no-show appointments and last-minute cancellations in your dental office

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When patients don’t show, or cancel at the last minute, it can harm your dental clinic’s bottom line. No-show appointments equate to lost time, productivity, and profit for your practice. Patients also suffer from missed appointments due to delayed care as well as reducing available appointment times. You may be thinking, I can’t control my patients… what can I do to avoid last-minute cancellations?

Although these instances may feel out of your power, there are actions you can take to decrease last-minute cancellations and changes. Here are some suggestions on how to keep your practice operating at maximum capacity so that your patients can have the best experience possible.

  • Send multiple reminders
  • Adopt a no-show policy
  • Schedule convenient appointments
  • Pre-book appointments
  • Demonstrate gratitude
  • Make your office fun
  • Keep a wait list

Send multiple reminders

When booking an appointment, ask your patient how they prefer to be contacted–keeping in mind all of the different mediums such as phone, email and text messaging.

Maintain accurate and up to date contact information, including cell phone numbers, email addresses, and home addresses. Utilize multiple reminder methods with automated text messages and emails. SMS Text Messaging in particular has been shown to result in fewer no-show appointments, as it gives patients the date and time in an easily accessible place. However, it’s important to find a software that can automate these tasks for you, and give your front desk staff more time to build relationships with your patients.

Then, develop a cadence for your reminder messages that proves to be most effective in reducing no-shows while also giving your patients an opportunity to identify unforeseen appointment conflicts with enough time for you to be able to re-book that appointment time.

This is the reminder cadence that we have found to be most effective:

Adopt a no-show policy

Setting a policy for no-show or late changes demonstrates that your clinic knows its value. There are many different types of no-show policies to consider. Not every policy has to include a monetary penalty, and in fact, many practices find these to be off-putting. However, adopting a no-show policy doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your patients. If someone doesn’t show up for an appointment, don’t alienate them–follow up with a caring message to see if everything is okay. When someone calls last minute to change their appointment time, offer alternative options to retain their business. Above all, demonstrate compassion towards your clientele to find the policy that feels best for both them and your business.

Schedule convenient appointments

How can you schedule appointments to avoid cancellations and no-shows? Keep a patient’s unique situations in mind when you’re booking their appointments to set them up for success.

  • Do they have kids in school and only have availability in the afternoon?
  • Is there a holiday coming up where schools will be closed but your practice will be open?
  • Are they constantly traveling and prefer to be called for a last-minute opening?
  • Does your clinic offer extended weekend, morning, or evening hours?
  • If you operate out of multiple clinics, is there a location that would suit their schedule better?

Accommodate their needs to ensure they can make the appointment. If your clinic doesn’t already offer extended hours, consider if that would enable you to extend your client base. Taking a moment to really understand your patient’s scheduling needs makes a big impact on their view of your practice.

Pre-book appointments

How can you increase patients pre-booking their procedures? This increases their investment in the appointment and sets a standard for your clinic’s post procedural operations. After all, people are more likely to be thinking about their follow-up visit while they’re still in your office. Create a routine with your practitioners and front desk staff that includes having all patients speak to the front desk prior to them leaving. Even if no payment needs to be tendered, it gives your staff the opportunity to ask the patient how their appointment went, and allows the scheduling process to be more personal.

Keep a wait list

If you have patients with unpredictable schedules, offer to put them on a wait-list. As no-shows or last-minute cancellations occur, they can be contacted to fill in these otherwise vacant spots in your schedule. If patients do end up missing an appointment or need to change last minute, offer to add them to the wait list so that they can still get their appointment completed without you having to risk another no-show.

Demonstrate gratitude

How can you show your patients that you appreciate them and their loyalty to your practice? Keep a calendar of birthdays and other milestones, and send notes through personalized emails, postcards, and text messages. Ensure that the time they spend in your office is centered around their needs. Practice active listening, and promptly follow up on any questions or requests. Special touches paired with consistent communication and reliable follow ups create a unique and memorable relationship between your practice and patients.

Make your office fun✌️

Keep your customer base, and your staff, enthusiastic with holiday-centered giveaways and prizes. Set up a raffle that patients can enter every time they show up for an appointment on time. Allow existing clientele to receive a referral perk if they bring in new patients. Make sure your staff has input and responsibility with the events taking place around the practice. Not only will you be creating a fun working environment for your employees, but at the same time, you will be maintaining a warm and delightful experience for your patients.


While no-shows and short notice cancellations are part of running a dental clinic, you and your staff can minimize their occurrence. In turn, this will boost your clinic’s bottom line and allow your office to operate at top efficiency, since no shows result in wasted preparation time in addition to the missed chair time. If you haven’t already analyzed whether an automated software could boost your business, take a couple minutes to chat with a ClearDent Solutions Expert or download our eBook: Your Guide to Choosing Dental Software.

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