Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dental clinic turns no-shows into 'good patients'

Money is certainly an obstacle keeping the poor from good dental care,  but if dentists are being candid,  they'll acknowledge it's not the only one.

Getting an appointment may be hard for patients,  but getting the patients to show up can be a challenge for dentists.  Dr. William Donigan says when Gaston Family Health Services opened its dental clinic in 1996,  the no-show rate was around 45 percent.  That meant the calendar was  overbooked every day to keep things flowing.

The clinics  (there are now two in Gastonia and one in Statesville) have worked hard to get that rate down to about 13 percent,  Donigan said  --  still much higher than the 1-2 percent that's the norm in private practice.  The nonprofit dental clinics see more than 20,000 patients a year,  Donigan said,  with about 60 percent on Medicaid and 15 to 20 percent uninsured.

Clinic staff make reminder calls 48 hours before an appointment.  If a patient misses two appointments,  he or she has to write a letter explaining why and acknowledging that the action took an opportunity away from someone else.  A third no-show results in a one-year ban except for emergency care.

Donigan says the goal is  "developing good patients"  who will do well when their finances improve and they move on to a private practice.  That means  "take care of your teeth, show up for appointments and pay your bill,"  he said.

Donigan said his clinics,  the largest such dental provider in the state,  has worked to improve the patients' experience as well.

"The old clinic model was you shows up and you waited all day.  We try to run on schedule,"  he said.  "Treat the patient with value and they will treat you with value."


doctord40 said...

Just a note we are one of the largest clinics in the state, not the largest and we reached the 13% level in the current month of the interview. Secondly, if patients do not confirm at 48 hours, they are left a message to call by noon the next day. If they have not called back to our clinic, their appointment is removed from the schedule. This is consistent with the scheduling policy that is signed by the patient when they are enrolled at GFHS. This also allows the clinic to fill the appointment slots for the following day.