Here are some quick and easy tips on how you can eliminate no-shows in your dental practice.

No-shows are as old as dentistry. To the point that there’s an old joke about how the first dental patient in history didn’t even make it to their appointment.

Every dental practice deals with patients failing to show up for appointments. No-shows, unfortunately, are a part of the game.

So, knowing this, how do you eliminate no-shows?

Double-booking doesn’t work. It’s great in theory, but on the days when everyone shows up, you’re stuck running around frantically. It’s also inefficient — especially if your office maximizes productivity with block scheduling.

Pre-appointing is great for some things, but not really when it comes to eliminating no-shows.

Often times patients may not fully understand the need for their appointment and cancel last minute.

Fortunately, there are safeguards you can put in place to eliminate no-shows. Here are a few ways to ensure that chair stays full.

Eliminating No-Shows

Strong No-Show Policy

At first glance, this may sound punitive — and while there can be a penalty associated, your no-show policy doesn’t have to be a hellfire and brimstone speech.

In your policy, explain its purpose.

You need patients to hold their appointments because it helps you deliver the best patient care. Every day you come in prepared to address exactly what’s on the schedule.

Should you choose to add a penalty in your no-show policy, call it out clearly and directly. Emphasize the timeframe needed to cancel an appointment, and again explain why you charge for no-shows.

In this case, you’ll appeal to both your patients’ sense of empathy and their wallet.

Above all, ensure that you require patients to sign your cancellation form. In doing this, you safeguard yourself during future difficult conversations.

If a patient no-shows or cancels at the last moment, and you penalize them, you have documentation that they have agreed to your cancellation policy.

16 Questions Your No-Show and Cancellation Policy Should Answer

Helpful no-show and cancellation policies not only answer questions that your patients probably have, like “When do I need to cancel by?” and “How much is the cancellation fee?” but they also clarify sticking points. For example, you may want your policy to explain up front that insurance does not cover the penalty or clarify whether repeat offenders need to pay a portion of their appointment fees ahead of time.

For other crucial questions to consider when writing or editing your policy, download our checklist “16 Questions For When You Write Your No-Show and Cancellation Policy” below.

Get Your Checklist of Questions for Your No-Show Policy

Electronic Forms

Another way to safeguard against no-shows is to implement online and digital forms.

In a recent webinar, RevenueWell founder Alex Nudel spoke on just how powerful electronic forms are with regards to no-shows.

“Patients that fill out forms are a lot more likely to come in,” Nudel told his audience. “[In fact] 98% of patients that take time to fill out forms online will make it in [to their appointments].”

In completing their forms before an appointment, a patient has already committed themself. They’ve also successfully tackled the first part of their visit and now can show up on time (rather than 15 minutes early) knowing you’ll be fully prepared for them.

There’s also a mental component to digital forms. In sending these out, you show patients just how much you care about their experience in your office.

You don’t want them sitting hunched over a clipboard, shuffling through a purse or wallet for insurance info, stressing over whether they’ve updated everything properly and wondering if this extra time is eating into their already busy day.

You want them to feel relaxed from the moment they step in the door. You’ve given plenty of lead time and set expectations for a lovely, comfortable visit.

Better Appointment Reminders

There are many, many reasons patients may fail to show up for an appointment. Sometimes there’s a valid reason; other times it’s simple neglect.

One way to mitigate the latter is to really take your appointment reminder game to the next level.

Are you one-and-done with a simple postcard? Maybe just an email a week out or a friendly phone call a few days prior.

Your head is in the right space, but when it comes to appointment reminders, pull a quote from the Andrea True Connection: “More more more. How do you like it, how do you like it?”

Give patients “more more more” reminders. And communicate with patients in the ways they like it.

Single postcards just don’t cut it. They will not reduce no-shows.

Bake them into a fully optimized recall campaign, though, and now you’re cookin’ with grease.

Start with a postcard. Follow up with an email. Fire off a text the week prior to their appointment. Send a phone reminder a few days before. And then, if the patient still hasn’t confirmed their appointment, send a same-day reminder the morning of.

Now, it’s important to remember to cut down on the reminders in your recall campaign once a patient confirms that they’ll be in for their scheduled appointment. But up to then, find a way to engage with them.

Prepaid Appointments

This flies a little in the face of what we said earlier regarding pre-appointments, but bear with us.

When pre-appointing patients, give them the option to pay for their treatment early. Not only does this upend your collections and accounts receivable model (paying before the treatment rather than 30/60/90 days later), it also helps eliminate no-shows.

If somebody has already paid, they will show up. There is no stronger commitment to an appointment than plunking down cash in advance.

There are several ways to encourage patients to pay early for future treatment.

The first is to propose it during checkout. When scheduling a future appointment, simply ask the patient if they’d like to pay up front. You might be surprised by the amount of people who’d rather get that cost out of the way — one less thing to think about!

Another way to encourage patients to prepay for appointments is to provide an online payment portal. Make it easy for them to pay. Schedule and pay right up front, wham bam.

If you choose to schedule and accept prepaid appointments, be sure to inform patients.

Have schedulers fold this value prop into their script. Include it in your welcome packets. Market it in your monthly newsletters. Even send a once-off email to inform all your patients that they can pay beforehand if they want.

Again, prepayment not only helps eliminate no-shows and cancelations, but it also benefits your revenue cycle.

Positive Reinforcement

This last tip might seem like common sense, but sometimes the easiest answers are the ones right in front of us.

Show appreciation.

Thank every patient for making it to their appointment. For scheduling, for showing up, and for being a valued member of your dental family.

Express just how much they mean to you.

When scheduling, tell each patient that from the moment they walk into your practice, they’re the most important person in your team members’ lives.

People may not know just how important it is to you that they keep their scheduled appointment.

However, if you say, “Oh my goodness, thank you so much for coming in today. Sometimes I have to scramble to fill holes in our schedule, but I know that when we have you scheduled, everything will run smoothly!”

Make patients feel good about how well they’ve treated you. Do this, and everyone leaves the day feeling great!


Learn more about how RevenueWell improves case acceptance and creates more close-knit relationships between dentists and their patients.

By RevenueWell