Another seemingly controversial way our practice may stand out from others is that we require a credit card number on file in order for a new patient to book an initial appointment. This may seem to fly in the face of the traditional philosophy of treating the new patient like royalty in your practice, which I happen to agree with by the way. The problem comes when you leave yourself exposed to the whims of someone whom you have never met and with whom you have yet to establish a relationship of trust. Every provider has been burned by this individual far too many times. Even when good intentions are in mind, it is unfortunately too easy for a well-meaning new client to fail an appointment when no inherent consequences are in place.
In our practice, it works as follows when a new patient calls to schedule the initial visit. The receptionist warmly greets the caller and answers all questions, including those regarding insurance benefit information. The central imperative here is to establish a welcoming relationship up front. When this has been achieved optimally, the new patient typically has no problem answering a couple of questions from us before the call ends. We politely explain to the patient that all new patient appointments need to be secured with a credit card number, which we will never charge unless the patient fails the appointment altogether. Though many of my friends and colleagues fear that by adopting this strategy they may chase away potential customers, we have found that this is simply not the case. Less than half of one percent of patients ever balks at this approach, and those that do are likely cognizant that they cannot trust themselves to show up at the appointment as scheduled. Personally, I do not want those risk laden clients in my practice anyway. They are simply weeding themselves out of the patient population.
Another benefit to securing credit card information prior to the initial appointment is that it tends to instill a sense of value in the time set aside for the client. We let our patients know that we do not double block their time slot and that this appointment period is being specifically allotted to them. In dentistry, time is more valuable than material costs or any other, because staff costs and other fixed overhead is wrapped up in it. When patients do not receive any goods or services, they may surmise that no real cost is assumed by the proprietor. By requesting credit card information on file, patients are alerted to the fact that in the business of dentistry, time is money. Be sure to check into the laws in your area regarding the storage of credit card information when implementing this practice protocol and take steps to ensure credit card information is stored securely.