Forward Booking Lessons From the Dental Industry

When was the last time you left your dentist's office without making your next appointment? Forward booking has been a standard practice in the dental industry for decades. However, the veterinary industry lags far behind in this area. According to a recent Veterinary Hospital Managers Association survey, only 15% of practices are currently booking wellness and preventive medicine exams in advance. So how can you increase the rate of forward booking at your practice?

Determine Your Current Forward-Booking Rate

Check to see if your current practice management system has an existing report that will allow you to quickly calculate your current advance booking percentage. If your system does not have that capability, you will need to export appointment data and calculate the number of advance bookings manually. If you haven't been pushing it in the past, your rate will likely be very low, but that can be improved.

Use the Right Language

The way you introduce the idea to the client is critical. It should be mentioned by all members of the team, so that when the time comes, the client is primed for the interaction. In the exam room, the veterinarian should mention that the practice is now booking all patients in advance, emphasizing the importance of regularly scheduled care, and that the technician or receptionist will take care of that during checkout. The technician or receptionist should then act as if the future booking is a given, asking if a certain time and day of the week would typically work best with their schedule. If you are able to schedule while they are still in the exam room, that's even better.

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Staff should be prepared to handle client objections about booking far in advance, especially if this is an entirely new concept at your practice. Emphasize that this is an added convenience so the client doesn't need to remember to call in to make an appointment later. Remind them that the appointment can always be rescheduled if other commitments pop up. Mention how the process is similar to dental appointments, which are regularly booked far in advance. Assure them that they will receive reminders closer to the appointment.

Enhance Your Reminder System

You need to be absolutely sure that clients have adequate notice to change the appointment they booked months prior. You don't want an increase in advance scheduling to be accompanied by an increase in your no-show rate.

Be sure to reach out to the client several weeks in advance so that they have the opportunity to reschedule their visit if their plans have changed. Make sure you are using various reminder tools including texting, email, mail, or phone calls based on client preferences.

You should also consider giving clients an appointment reminder card in the office when they check out, or have the next scheduled appointment date printed on their receipt, depending on the capabilities of your practice's PIMS system.

Set Goals and Monitor Success

Regularly evaluate your success rate: annually at minimum, but more frequently if possible. Determine some realistic goals for the implementation of this new system, perhaps achieving at least 50% compliance within a few years. The dental industry boasts more than an 80% rate of advance booking, so that's something to aspire to. It may take time to get clients on board, especially if you're starting from scratch. But with some persistence, you should be able to get most clients to make the transition.

You might also consider rewarding staff as booking goals are met, which will encourage them to keep driving the idea home with clients. Staff buy-in is as important as client buy-in to develop this process.

Forward booking is a great way to increase appointments and ensures that pets are seen on a regular basis. A survey from the American Animal Hospital Association indicated that 6 out of 10 clients were open to the idea of booking in advance, so there is definitely room to grow this concept with your client base. Don't miss out on this simple way to boost business at your practice!


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Mary Hope Kramer
Animal Industry Writer

Mary Hope Kramer has more than 15 years of professional writing experience. She worked as a small-animal veterinary assistant while completing her BS degree in animal science at Berry College. She was also named top student in the Kentucky Equine Management Internship and completed the Summer Experience in Equine Management at the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute in Chazy, New York. After graduation, she focused on gaining professional experience in the equine industry. 

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