The government’s insistence on imposing activity targets on NHS contracted practices has caused much dismay amongst the profession. But leaving aside the political and emotional reaction caused by this decision, dentists, practice owners and dental teams, together, need to consider every way in which they can achieve the target and therefore avoid the financial penalties that go with any failure.
Let’s be clear, keeping patients coming into dental practices at any time is important, but during this latest Lockdown, it is vital. Average FTA rates in the UK currently run at around 5% but patients with busy lives, the stress of COVID, kids who need home schooling, and general worries about the future, it’s little wonder that a dental appointment might slip somebody’s mind.
So dental practices need to act and do what they can to improve attendance rates, so here’s a few easy-to-follow tips:
- Tell patients you are “Open for Business”. First and foremost, you need to make sure that patients don’t assume that practices have closed as they did in the first lockdown and don’t think for a minute that patients have read all the way through the latest government guidelines. Tell them that dentistry is categorised as an essential service and is open for urgent and non-urgent care. Use your website and social media and create e-communications using your dental software to get the message out. The BDA has some useful resources to help with this messaging https://bda.org/advice/Coronavirus/Pages/latest-updates.aspx
- Send text and email reminders. Make sure that the processes you have for sending reminders are followed and that your dental software is scheduled to send reminders out a week and 24 hours prior to all appointments. If patients cancel when they receive the reminder at least you have the opportunity to fill the white space, rather than wait for an FTA to occur.
- Automate. The best way to ensure that reminders go out as scheduled is to automate the process using your dental software. Reception teams are currently very busy, dealing with patients inside the practice; ensuring social distancing and infection prevention guidance is followed and fielding phone queries from concerned patients. Automation means that the vital task of sending reminders won’t get forgotten.
- Work as a team. Teamwork is more important than ever at this time and taking the whole team with you will help share the load. The consequence of missing targets is serious, but if everyone understands the part they can play in avoiding this situation, there is a better chance of your team pulling together and hitting the activity threshold.
FTAs are a serious concern at this time. Chris Groombridge is Managing Director at 543 Dental Centre in Hull, a mixed practice with a large NHS contract and he acknowledges the importance of maintaining patient attendance, commenting “It’s really very simple. FTAs mean empty chairs, which is putting additional strain on dental practices at a time when we can least afford it. 543 uses a simple yet effective method to ensure appointment reminders are sent out on time via EXACT dental software, and this is helping us to keep our patient numbers on track.”