One of the most stressful things that can take place in a dental office is a canceled appointment. It can throw off an entire day and create logistical nightmares. The only thing more stressful is coming up with a way to reduce the number of canceled appointments, and thus decreasing the amount of stress.

An effective strategy means asking the right questions:

1. Should we change the appointment confirmation process?

Some dental offices think the process of contacting patients for appointment confirmations is "babysitting" them. They also fear that it invites a cancellation right at that moment.

However, Practice Consultant Eileen Morrissey disagrees. She says that patient is probably going to cancel anyway, and a confirmation is an important part of a service-oriented industry.

Morrissey says one way to keep confirmations from becoming cancellations is by choosing the right words to say during the call.

"It always amazes me when I hear front office staff members confirming appointments like this: 'Mrs. Smith, this is Mary from Dr. Murray's office calling to remind you of your appointment tomorrow at 3 p.m. If you have to cancel, please call us as soon as possible,'" she wrote on Dental Economics.

2. Should we change the rescheduling process?

Another problem Morrissey points out is the practice of giving a canceling patient a chance to reschedule within the same week. If it's easy to get the appointment moved 24 to 48 hours later, there's no reason to hesitate canceling the original date.

Morrissey discusses a dental practice that has a specific process in place to deal with this challenge. After a broken appointment, the scheduler will only allow an easy, prime-time replacement date if it's reserved with a credit card. She says you just politely tell them that it's a necessary process since cancellations are not fair to patients who wait months for appointments.

3. Should we enhance our scheduling/appointment process?

Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management, suggests you book appointments 3-4 months in advance, and infuse that process with a system of reminders.

"I suggest you send them reminders three or four weeks before they’re due to see you again," she writes on Dentistry IQ. "You can do this via snail mail, email, text or phone call, depending on how they prefer to communicate with the office. If you use your patient communication system, you can set up reminders to be released at different intervals beginning 30 days before the appointment."

Cambridge Dental Consultants CEO Kevin Tighe says that texting is becoming a preferred method among dental patients (over a postcard). He also says that once a new patient books an appointment, a "welcome" call from the office can reduce the odds of a cancellation.

4. What should we do with people who keep canceling no matter what?

It may not be the most comfortable answer, but Dental Accounting suggests you simply drop the chronic cancelers. At the end of the day, your practice is a business, and it has to be able to run in a way that effectively serves its patients.

You can easily explain that constant cancellations disrupt your office's ability to fulfill its mission to serve the community.

It's imperative that patients understand that their scheduled appointment is more than just an errand on their calendar. It's a day and time that holds significance to your office and the people you serve.