Easy Strategies to Achieve a Low Rate of Last-inute Failed Appointments

by Dr. Kathryn Alderman 

All dental office front desk team members must understand the consequences of failed or missed appointments. Dental offices suffer devastating financial consequences when your dental office front desk team is faced with a high volume of last-minute failed appointments. In fact, the price that your practice could pay will quickly add up, becoming outrageously expensive. For example, if a dental practice has 100 appointments scheduled, and twenty of those appointments fail, the cancellation rate is 20%. If this practice has an average adjusted production per patient of $300, this rate of appointment failure would cost it $6,000 in one month. If this rate was a regular occurrence, the cost per year could reach as high as $72,000. 

Dental office front desk team and other dental professionals from Lincoln Family Dentistry, a partner of Nebraska Family Dentistry.

What is the ideal KPI for last-minute failed appointments?

The KPI for last-minute failed appointments should ideally be under 4% for dental practices. However, many look at their statistics and wonder if it is even possible to achieve such a low rate – and, even more importantly, how to do it. 

The good news? It most certainly is possible. The key? Business coordinators. 

Business coordinators play a crucial role in preventing no-shows and last-minute cancellations. A dental practice’s business coordinators are the first and last people your patients will talk to. The significance of their influence on the potential success of your practice cannot be overstated – and they can also be your office’s key to ensuring low appointment failure rates. 

What’s the Key to Successful Front Desk Dental Office Training?

The key is to help your business coordinator gain both skills and confidence to prevent no-shows and last-minute cancellations effectively, is to prioritize teaching your practice’s business team, or the team manning the dental office front desk, on how to prevent and handle those last-minute cancellations in both a kind and tactical manner. Many of those who work the dental office front desk at a dental practice are outgoing, empathetic people who desire to provide exceptional customer service. While their kindness is undoubtedly a powerful asset (and extremely important in ensuring that your patient has a positive experience at your office), this might also mean that they do not know how to properly address it when patients cancel their appointments or don’t show up at all. 

Dental office front desk team and Dr. Sydney Joyce from SouthPointe Dental in Lincoln, NE.

By training your dental office front desk team to handle last-minute cancellations and no-shows properly, you will give them the confidence they need to mitigate the issue properly. As a result, successful practice in this realm can quickly lower the number of last-minute broken appointments, thereby increasing its revenue by thousands of dollars over time. 

For example – let’s say that a patient calls your practice to cancel their appointment, citing that they are simply too busy at work to make it. Most business coordinators without the proper training will respond, “let’s find you another day.” 

What can your dental office front desk team say instead?

With correct training, they should instead respond: “I am so sorry to hear that your work is super busy; unfortunately, it seems to be that time of the year. However, I know that the doctor was looking forward to seeing you today, and this time is reserved just for you. Is there any way that you could make it? If you can, you will avoid the $75 appointment cancellation fee that our system will automatically charge for a late-minute cancellation.”

Most of the time, when using this method, patients will either keep their appointments or, at the very least, become trained to avoid canceling at the last minute. 

It is also absolutely vital for your practice to have the proper strategies in place that will help to prevent failed appointments. When properly taught, your business team can be the key to properly implementing these strategies and will help ensure that the patients are trained to respect the provider’s time and better value the time scheduled just for them. Several of these strategies can be used together to ensure that patients fully grasp your office’s cancellation policies, unless in the event of an unplanned emergency. 

Some of The strategies your Front Desk Team can use include: 

  • Emailing new patient paperwork in advance: this allows for both an opportunity to welcome a new patient in advance and also to remind him that we have time set-aside specifically for them and that it is expected that they should give 24-48 hours advance notice should they need to change their appointment.
  • Listing your last-minute cancellation & no-show policies and fees on your new patient paperwork. 
  • Ensuring that your cancellation fee is understood both by new and existing patients – this can be done by adding it to appointment cards and even in your confirmation messages. It is important that your business coordinators communicate these fees when scheduling patients. 
  • An example of what they could say would be: “We are looking forward to seeing you. Please do let us know if you cannot make it at least 48 hours in advance so that you can avoid the cancellation fee that our system automatically charges for last-minute cancellations.”

Overall, what’s one of the most important skills for your Dental office front desk team to learn?

Of course, one of the most important things is ensuring that your business coordinators are taught how to be kind and professional when mentioning those fees. 

Another possibility would be to include the fee in the confirmation message itself. Something such as, “Good morning, we look forward to seeing you on DATE/TIME. This time is reserved just for you, so we would like to confirm that you will be here. If this time does not work for you, please do let us know at least 48 hours in advance so that you can avoid the $75 fee that our system will automatically charge for a last-minute cancellation.”

Additional Helpful Strategies for your Front desk dental team:

Dental professionals and the dental office front desk team along with Dr. Lauren Albin and Dr. Christine Bergman from South Lincoln Family Dentistry, a partner of Nebraska Family Dentistry.
  • Business coordinators need to use multiple communication methods – text, email, call, or whatever other methods your practice uses to communicate with patients – to confirm appointments. 
  • Once your team utilizes this method of using multiple communication methods, and the patient still has not confirmed their appointment, you should give the “go-ahead” for them to move the unconfirmed patient from the main schedule to a specifically designated “unconfirmed” column. 
  • It is also helpful to teach your dental team to record all no-shows and cancellations in a patient’s chart. Usually, the same patients will repeat the same behavior. 
  • It has been shown that scheduling patients for longer, fewer appointments to achieve their recommended treatments will decrease the cancellation rate. With this method, patients will be more compliant in completing the treatment recommended to them. 

In Addition to the above, there are a few other helpful things your front desk dental office team members can do:

  • It is also helpful to schedule the longer or more involved procedures 10-14 days in advance to avoid the patient from losing their motivation due to “life” happening in the meantime, which would inevitably shift their financial priorities elsewhere. 
  • It is a good idea to charge a reservation fee for appointments scheduled further out so that the no-show fee can be deducted from this amount if the patient cancels at the last minute or simply fails to show up.
  • The most common reason patients fail to keep their appointment is due to finances. Therefore, be sure to train your business coordinators to inform the patient of the co-pay amount in advance and utilize strategies such as offering payment options before the appointment to avoid any financial surprises on the day of the appointment.
  • It is also essential to educate the patient on the limitations of dental insurance (given that your practice accepts insurance plans) and dissuade patients from assuming that their dental insurance will fully cover their needed treatment. 

Final Thoughts for successful Front Desk Dental Office Training:

In conclusion, the business coordinator’s role is crucial to the overall success of each business practice. They play a vital part in teaching your patients to keep their appointments and, therefore, can make a significant difference in your practice avoiding a high rate of last-minute failed appointments. 

By implementing the above strategies and ensuring that your dental office front desk team correctly and consistently communicates them, your practice will find it easier to decrease the number of last-minute broken appointments that it faces. This will play a tremendous role in keeping your failed appointment KPI under 4%, ultimately leading to higher revenue for your practice overall. 

Image of one of our dental office front desk teams at Nebraska Family Dentistry.

Pictured above are my business coordinators, all of who have been mentored and trained using the curriculum in my course, which helps to train new business coordinators who are entering the field without prior dental experience. 

About Dr. Kathtyn Alderman:

About the author:

This article is written by Dr. Kathryn Alderman, CEO and founder of Progressive Practice Solutions and Nebraska Family Dentistry multi-location group. Progressive Practice Solutions agency provides support for running multi-location practices.

Dr. Kathryn Alderman has extensive experience in marketing, leadership, and business development.

Her goal is to simplify the business of dentistry. She often says: “I believe in living your best life, and owning a business allows me to do so. Owning a business is not to make my life more challenging but richer, more rewarding, and with a bigger purpose. ” 

You can connect with Dr. Kathryn Alderman:


Email: progressivedentalmentor@gmail.com 

Dr. Kathryn Alderman