I have been doing a lot of research and analysis on recall systems recently as we attempt to revamp ours in the office. As with many of the systems in a dental office when things are working and the hygiene schedule is full we tend to relax the system. When there are openings in hygiene we focus on the system. The problem with this approach is that the attention we pay to the system today reaps positive rewards 3-6 months from now not next week where the openings are. Having a consistently productive hygiene department depends on a consistent system. With all systems the first thing to do is decide what we want it to accomplish. With this in place we can then look at the process or pieces of the system, and decide who is accountable for the overall success, and the independent pieces.
There seem to be some truths about recall systems. The first of these is that the system is most effective when patients schedule their next appointment when they are in the office. If we look at patients staying on time for their recall appointments and keeping their mouths healthy, scheduling ahead is most effective. In addition if we consider the amount of human resources and time it takes to create a hygiene appointment, scheduling ahead is the most efficient system for the practice. So what percentage of our patients should be scheduling ahead? There is quite a bit of variety in this answer, but it seems most practice consultants aim for between 80-90%. Help your patients understand the value of “reserving” their time when they are leaving, and most often the hygienist has the best relationship and knowledge to effectively manage this part of the system.
Different patients will respond to varying forms of communication. There is no one magic way to communicate with patients about their recall appointments. Whether we are trying to confirm a previously made appointment or schedule a patient we need a variety of methods to accomplish our goals. We utilize the phone, mailed cards, e-mail and text messaging routinely when we communicate with patients. Realistically for patients that are not already scheduled it will take multiple points of contact over a ninety day period to schedule the significant percentage. We don’t know what is happening for the patient the moment they see the text or hear the phone message, and how this will impact them taking action at that moment. Don’t bombard people, create a schedule to time your contacts that facilitates patients staying healthy and isn’t pushy.
Plan your work and work your plan. Develop a system that specifies the time and activity of all recall related tasks, for patients with and without something pre-appointed. Stick to your plan, whether the schedule is full or not.