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Book ahead

Why forward-booking is the best strategy for veterinary practices.

Book ahead

Dentists have established the gold standard in forward-booking patients. When I visited Tom Kampfe, DDS, in Centennial, Colorado, my hygienist Yvonne pulled up the appointment schedule while I was still in the dental chair. She said, “Let’s schedule your next visit now, which will be the week of Jan. 23. I see that you usually make appointments on Monday or Friday mornings. Would Monday, Jan. 23 at 8 a.m. work for you?”

Yvonne led me to schedule and was savvy enough to check my preferences. I asked her how many patients forward-book. She replied: “About 90 percent. I’m persuasive because if patients don’t schedule, I have to call them. It saves us both time when we schedule now.”

For dental offices, this scheduling technique serves two purposes:

  • Safeguards patients’ preventive care.
  • Protects practices’ financial health.

Patient care improves because timely visits let the dental team diagnose oral problems early.

As a business strategy for dentists, scheduling the next visit today will keep the hygiene schedule full and productive. When the hygiene schedule is not full, a domino effect will occur. In addition to health risks to patients, the dentist will see vacancies in future treatment schedules.

At least 80 percent of dental problems — root canals, crowns and restorations — are diagnosed during hygiene appointments. When patients leave today’s hygiene appointment without a future visit scheduled, a dental practice’s profits will decrease at least 50 percent.

Veterinarians need to follow dentists’ lead and use forward-booking for preventive checkups, medical progress exams and chronic disease management. Besides providing timely preventive care and early detection, the 2013 AAHA State of the Industry Report estimated that going from 5 percent to 10 percent of forward-booked exams could generate $40,000 in additional revenue for a typical practice, or equal to 3 percent revenue growth. The report estimated a total of $350 million in additional preventive care revenue for the veterinary profession.

According to the 2015 AAHA State of the Industry report, 6 out of 10 pet owners would forward-book their pets’ preventive checkups.

Veterinary hospitals can follow these steps to effectively implement forward-booking:

Proactively Lead Clients to Schedule

Say, “Just as your dentist has you schedule your next hygiene appointment at checkout, we do the same so we can proactively manage your pet’s health. Dr. <Name> could see you on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. or Friday, Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. for your pet’s next checkup. Which fits your schedule?”

Direct the client to a specific date and time, increasing the likelihood she’ll schedule. If the client is here at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, she can probably visit again at a similar time and day of the week. Book the appointment with the same doctor, ensuring continuity of care and efficient use of exam time. Known as the two-yes-options technique, this phrasing guides pet owners to book future exams.

If a procrastinator doesn’t want to book the next exam, be persistent. Say, “I understand that you don’t know your schedule 12 months from today. Let’s schedule your pet’s next checkup for this same day and time next year. We will contact you two weeks before the appointment to confirm, so if you need to change the exam it will be easy. By scheduling today, you will get your first choice of doctor, day and time. Your appointment reminder for Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. will print on today’s receipt.”

Color Code Forward-Booked Exams

When booking exams six months or more ahead, call clients two weeks in advance to confirm in case appointments need to be rescheduled. Also call two days before as a courtesy reminder. Use a unique color code in your practice management software so you can identify appointments that were booked in advance. Shifting to earlier appointment confirmation calls or emails will allow you to reschedule, if necessary. After all, rescheduling appointments is better than having no future appointments.

Pre-blocking your schedule lets you plan for efficient, timely visits. Aim for the scheduling pattern of preventive care/sick/preventive care. You’re more likely to stay on time if you sandwich a sick-patient exam between two preventive checkups.

Confirm Forward-Booked Exams Earlier

To avoid no-shows or cancellations for forward-booked exams, confirm them one to two weeks in advance. Say, “This is <Your Name> calling from <Your Veterinary Hospital> to confirm your pet’s checkup with Dr. <Name> next week on <date> beginning at 10 a.m. Please bring a teaspoon-sized stool sample that’s fresh within ___ hours, as well as any medications and supplements you’re currently giving your pet. If you have questions, please call our office number. We also will call you two days before the exam as a courtesy reminder.”

Implement Disease-Management Exams

Forward-booking is especially important for patients with chronic health conditions such as cardiomyopathy, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease and diabetes. Once you diagnose a pet with a chronic disease, switch the patient from a preventive care exam to a disease-management exam code. The disease-management exam reminds quarterly or at the interval the veterinarian sets. Scheduled follow-up care will let the veterinarian provide optimal disease management. Clients also will appreciate that the veterinarian has spread out the cost of care.

My cat, Caymus, has cardiomyopathy and gets cardiac workups every six months. To forward-book chronic conditions, use benefit statements such as: “Let’s schedule Caymus’ next cardiac workup, which will be due in six months. We want to successfully manage his cardiomyopathy and make adjustments as needed. Six months from today would be <date>. Would you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment?”

By implementing these steps, veterinary hospitals can improve the health of their patients and practices with forward-booking.

Wendy S. Myers owns Communication Solutions for Veterinarians in Castle Pines, Colorado. She is a certified veterinary journalist and author of “101 Communication Skills for Veterinary Teams.” You can reach her at [email protected] or www.csvets.com.