How to combat a ‘cancellation culture’ in dentistry
Shaz Memon explains why now is the time to nip the ‘cancellation culture’ phenomenon in the bud.
It’s fair to say that many of us feel much of 2020 has been cancelled in one way or another – or at least postponed.
This pandemic erased a lot of our plans – from holidays to marking milestones through to new job opportunities and fresh beginnings. It also hit practice appointment books hard. Dentists saw their profits tumble when the government shut up shop in an attempt to manage the spread of COVID-19.
Cancellations became an acceptable face of the coronavirus. While hair grew long and our nights out diminished, dentists and their patients grew impatient for government decision-makers to share guidance and best practice.
Those in pain were forced to self-medicate in the interim until practice doors reopened. Patients seeking more cosmetic procedures were stalled at the starting block with their planned smile makeovers put on hold.
But this cancellation culture did not begin with coronavirus. Patients who decide (for whatever reason) to renege on a booking have long affected dentists. There has been much discussion on whether to charge those failing to attend. Arguably, it can prove a sound preventative policy if a practice faces frequent FTAs.
A recent argument suggests a pre-appointment fee to lessen the risk.
However, in this current environment a pandemic has put paid to frequent footfall. Infection control, fallow time and PPE changes creates longer hiatus between appointments. What can practitioners realistically do to ward against even bigger gaps in their books?
First of all, we should perhaps consider our behaviours when it comes to cancelling on our commitments.
Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge recently raged on Instagram about a table of no shows who left him bereft of 27 covers one evening at his restaurant.
He vented: ‘To the 27 people that booked @kerridgesbandg and then failed to turn up on a Saturday night… This industry, like many others, is on the verge of collapse. Your behaviour is disgraceful, short-sighted and downright unhelpful… All of you “no shows” in all restaurants up and down the country are adding to the issues… You are putting people’s jobs more at risk… We put staff levels to the number of covers booked. When you fail to turn up, it now costs us, which in turn will force very uncomfortable and hard decisions about staffing levels. You are the worst kind of guest, and that is “selfish”. I hope you have good look at yourselves…’
I am sure many dentists can relate to his frustrations, given the equally precarious state of many dental practices.
But consider this – how many times have any of us cancelled on a friend at the last minute. Or ducked out of a Zoom meeting just hours beforehand? Are time constraints and late-minute emergencies an acceptable excuse when it comes to cancelling on friends and colleagues, restaurants or job interviews, for example?
In the case of restaurants trying to operate in a COVID-19 world, should there now be fines for no-shows?
A rise in cancellations
Many practices find that punishing non-attendees or late cancellations with fines can often be counter-productive. But technology can offer a more positive solution.
Just as the digital age has brought with it new and exciting clinical solutions to clinical and aesthetic issues, it has also shaped how practices communicate with patients.
Dr Ravi Jain is medical director and consultant aesthetic physician at Riverbanks Wellness clinic in Bedfordshire. He has seen a ‘cancellation culture’ creeping into his own business as coronavirus dealt the world its crippling blow.
He says: ‘Overall, the vast majority of people who have been booking appointments have not only been showing up but have read our new safety measures beforehand and are fully on board with the new procedures. I am grateful to every one of them. This is not an easy transition, and patients’ cooperation and support are very much noticed and appreciated.
‘However, at the same time, we’ve also noticed a rise in the number of people who are booking appointments and then not showing up. Without the courtesy of cancelling. It’s a serious problem.’
Due to the new safety measures and limited treatment slots, which are inevitably very high demand, clinics such as Riverbanks, and similarly cosmetic dental practices one can assume, are paying the price for this cavalier attitude towards cancelling bookings.
Ravi says: ‘The first issue is that when patients book a slot but fail to turn up, other patients who would have taken those appointments then miss out. That’s not fair.
‘Secondly, we are operating after three months of closure and in difficult conditions. As you can imagine, running a practice right now is a balancing act. When patients don’t turn up, they risk the viability of the clinic – nothing less.’
Launching an app
As a solution, the clinic now has its app so that patients may cancel ahead of time. This gives Riverbanks as much notice as possible, so the team can offer the slot to someone else.
Ravi adds: ‘I understand that last-minute things crop up, making attendance difficult. So I’ve reduced the cancellation window on the app from 24 hours to four hours. If there is a true emergency and patients need to cancel with shorter notice than that, they may email us with an explanation.
The clinic is also using the app for patients to fill out their pre-appointment COVID-19 disclaimer. They are offering a helping hand via a phone call or email for anyone struggling to get to grips with the new technology.
Ravi says: ‘The vast majority of patients are managing to use it easily and intuitively. But if they have any issues, they can simply let us know. We know that this change takes some getting used to, and we’re here to help them through it.’
1. Be brave
Taking deposit payments is very likely to become the new default method of any business that takes bookings, thanks to the effects of COVID-19. The fragility of dental practice systems means just one ‘no show’ can disrupt the flow.
Many dental patients already use payment plans. A deposit is simply another way of securing commitment.
Just make it clear that, should they have good reason to change or cancel an appointment within 48 hours of its scheduled time, the practice will refund the full deposit.
2. Be intuitive
Not everyone is au fait with technology and some will require more of your time to explain the key essentials of your patient journey.
Also, make sure any information you share with patients is in simple terms. Nobody needs a barrier to treatment – especially if it is unnecessary!
3. Be helpful
Try to make your booking systems as straightforward as possible.
Offer advice and easy ways to contact your team so patients know you are going above and beyond to make this transition to a COVID-19 appointment as easy as possible.
4. Be proactive
Text reminders offer a great digital solution to FTAs. Once the practice establishes consent, it can use text reminders for all appointments. All text messages sent by your system may then be logged when successfully sent.
By utilising this technology, dental practices may consider developing an app to enhance the patient experience and improve productivity and efficiency. Apps help increase customer retention and loyalty by creating 24/7 availability. Apps can also help patients take control of their oral health care and prevent unnecessary treatment, adding value to their overall experience.
An experienced dental marketing company can work with you to develop a practice-branded app that might include functions for patients to see last-minute appointment availabilities as well as book them, receive alerts for new appointments and oral health tips or even allow them to leave a testimonial or share the app with friends via email, SMS or social media.
5. Link up
An app can also link to your practice website with tabs for late availability, exclusive promotions, hints and tips and so on.
For some, it is the quickest way to check availability and request an appointment – that they will hopefully keep!