The 3 Main Obstacles for Patients who have ‘Incomplete Treatment’


Following up patients on our ‘Incomplete Treatment’ lists is hard work.

You are trying to convince someone why it is important to take action, and unless you are a master negotiator who thrives on the thrill of combating objections, it is an uncomfortable role for many staff.

I want to start with stating that by the time the patient appears on the Incomplete Treatment list, it is often too late. The best time to engage your patients is when they are in the practice. It is then that patients have the time to listen to your advice, are in the head-space to learn about their dental health and when they are most likely to discuss their barriers in scheduling for treatment.

If you feel the number of patients on your Incomplete Treatment list is too high, the first step is to examine and finesse the experience you are providing to patients when they are visiting your practice. How can you develop stronger engagement? Increase trust? Make the visit more comfortable?

Despite best efforts, there will often be patients who don’t schedule for advised treatment. When deciding on how best to approach these patients, consider the following:

  • Phone-calls. Life is different from years ago when phone-calls always occurred at home or at work. If someone was out, you could not speak with them. Now it is likely that when you call a patient, they will be busy. You will be interrupting them, and they will not have the time or be in a location where they are free to discuss their dental health at length. Phone-calling patients about their incomplete treatment will not produce successful results.
  • SMS. Texts provide the least amount of engagement with patients and is not a sufficient mode of communication when prompting patients to book in.
  • Email. Regardless of how often dental practices use email, most of your patients will not be avid email browsers. Emailing patients is too hit-and-miss to be effective.

There are two methods that will achieve the level of patient engagement needed to influence your patient’s commitment to their oral health and schedule treatment: physical mail and/or another visit to the practice.

It is these forms of communication that offer the greatest opportunity to relay ideas for patients to contemplate. Your intention at these times is to address the 3 main obstacles to patients booking in:

  1. LACK OF UNDERSTANDING – Patients often cannot relay afterwards what has just been explained to them. If they don’t understand at the time, they often don’t ask clarifying questions so as not to appear stupid. It is important that the patient knows both how they will benefit from the advised treatment, but also the consequences of doing nothing.
  2. COST – Dentistry is one of the costliest health services people need to bear. It is important to address this barrier directly and without judgement. Ensure you establish a couple of choices of payment plans. (Get rid of the old-fashioned thought that if someone can afford a nice car or holiday, they should be able to afford dental treatment. This mindset is very unhelpful when managing the financial barrier of your patient’s treatment.)
  3. DENTAL PHOBIA – Providing relief for dental phobics is a must for every practice. Too high a percentage of your patients suffer from a degree of dental anxiety for it to be ignored.

Not all patients will respond with scheduling an appointment. As stated earlier, the best chance for compliance is at the original visit. Remember, if you develop your skills as a practice in developing long-term relationship with your patients, you have future opportunities at subsequent recall appointments, to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of suggested treatment plans.

Ensure you have good notes of the patient’s reasons for commencing the treatment so you can more easily re-engage them. Each patient has a unique set of reasons; do not assume that there is only a small number of variables.

Whether you offer a complimentary assessment appointment for Incomplete Treatment patients, or send them a carefully constructed letter, including solutions to the 3 main obstacles is vital if you wish to be successful.