That’s NOT OK!

True Story.

Here’s an actual phone conversation I had with a patient earlier today.

Me: Good Morning Dr. Fryer’s office. This is Missy, how can I help you?

Patient: Hi Missy. This is Michelle and I had an appointment this afternoon

OK, let’s stop here for a second. The patient called this morning and I notice that she says she “HAD” an appointment. Right away, my brain recognizes that this patient is trying to call to cancel her appointment for later today. As far as I’m concerned, she still “HAS” an appointment. I immediately know that it’s time to turn a potential broken appointment into a kept appointment.

Me: Oh yes! We have an hour reserved just for you later today!

Patient: (pauses) Well, I was going to cancel my appointment because something came up, but since you put it that way, I guess I’ll be in this afternoon.

Me: Sounds good! See you later on!


Did you catch what I did there? Let me give you the breakdown.

Every single time the phone rings, I get READY TO GUIDE the call. I take a deep breath and mentally prepare myself for the call.  I want to make sure that I come across as a confident and calming voice.

When the phone rang this morning, I took my deep breath and looked down at the caller ID. I recognized the name as a patient who was due in that afternoon. My antennae went up (yes, I have antennae) and before I picked up at the second ring, I mentally prepared myself that she might want to cancel today’s reservation with us. (Patients don’t often call a few hours before a reservation unless they want to change it.)

As you can see from our conversation, Michelle was starting to tell me that she couldn’t make it in today by saying that she “had” an appointment. I wasted NO time at all by jumping RIGHT in and reminding her that we had an hour reserved just for her. (I also said it in a very cheerful way. It always helps to be a little charming!) By being mentally prepared for this conversation and using that key statement, “We have an hour reserved just for you!”, I was able to keep Michelle from blowing us off today.

How’s that for strategy? 😉

I wonder if everyone takes the words they say to patients as seriously as I do. Every time Dr. Fryer sits down to restore a tooth, he takes it seriously. He’s the expert on teeth around here. I’m the expert on the phones. I take each call seriously, too.

Here’s the BEST part of my conversation with Michelle. 2:30p.m. arrived and she strolled in for her appointment. She stopped at the front desk and with a sly smile on her face said to me, “You’re good! I’m here because of what you said to me on the phone”.  I laughed and told her how much we appreciated her coming in today. She laughed too and said that she liked to come and visit us.

The moral of the story? Many times, a patient really CAN come in and they aren’t asking to reschedule because of a pressing emergency. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but those are far and few in between.

My advice for those who answer the phones

  • Choose your words carefully with patients. It’s NOT ok if someone wants to break an appointment with you for a silly reason, so don’t tell them that it is. Are you making it too easy for people to skip out on you by responding with, “That’s Ok”, when someone calls at the last minute to cancel?  Office time is valuable and patients need to understand that.
  • Be prepared to take charge of the call when the phone rings. Be mentally READY to handle a tough situation.
  • Role play different phone calls with your coworkers to improve your communication skills.
  • Pay attention to what you say to callers. Make notes on what works and what doesn’t work.
  • Use key phrases and words like I did in my phone call to Michelle.
  • Utilize the New Patient Reservation System to avoid future missed appointments. Once a patient has gone through that system, they will be less likely to ever miss a future reservation with your office.

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