MVC 2018: Why-and How-to Implement Forward Booking

March 30, 2018
Amanda Carrozza

Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.

Scheduling future appointments before clients leave your practice is a great way to increase retention and revenue.

The rewards of forward booking — scheduling a client’s next appointment before he or she leaves the office after the current visit — are twofold: patients receive an increased level of care and practices reap financial benefits. At the 2018 Midwest Veterinary Conference in Columbus, Ohio, Dawn Burdette, executive director of sales, leadership and development at Henry Schein Animal Health, explained why and how more veterinary practices should implement forward booking into their practice protocols.

Even if your clinic doesn’t currently take advantage of forward booking, you’ve probably experienced the concept in other industries. Dental offices, for example, are big proponents of forward booking for wellness exams. Their front office staff are well versed in making sure patients schedule their next visit at the conclusion of a dental cleaning.

Start Small

Implementing forward booking doesn’t have to be a mass overhaul, Burdette said. Instead, she advised managers to select one or two services for which clients will be asked to preschedule their next appointments. “Set the bar low so you know you can get over it,” she added.

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Preventive care is a prime example, Burdette explained, because it’s nearly impossible for veterinarians to fit every aspect of preventive care into a single 30-minute visit. Instead, she recommends breaking the appointment into two visits: the first focused on the physical examination and vaccinations and the second on heartworm prevention and dental services, or a combination that works best for your practice.

Make It a Team Effort

Forward booking will rely heavily on the reception staff, but they shouldn’t shoulder the entire responsibility. For the best results, Burdette said the veterinarian or technician can help set expectations with the pet owner about forward booking by mentioning it at the end of the appointment.

The ideal scenario: As the examination is winding down, the veterinarian lets the client know the preferred date range for the next appointment and that the receptionist will help with scheduling. The recommended date should also be indicated on the patient chart.

Once the client arrives at the reception desk, booking the next wellness visit should be handled the same way as a follow-up appointment would — as a recommendation from the veterinarian about the pet’s health. Burdette recommends solidifying the future appointment before requesting payment for the current one. “Book them before you bill them,” she said.

Be prepared for hesitancy, Burdette said, especially if forward booking for wellness exams a year in advance. It’s common for clients to decline forward booking because they don’t know what they’ll be doing six to 12 months from now. But don’t let that initial indecision mark the end of the conversation. Instead, she said, make it clear that rescheduling is a service of convenience for clients, and they should be reassured that rescheduling or canceling the appointment at a later time is acceptable.

Implement a Strong Reminder System

Clients should not be expected to remember an appointments that is made months in advance, so a corresponding reminder system needs to be in place. Start by sending an appointment reminder a few weeks in advance of the next appointment, Burdette said. Then send a second reminder the day before the appointment. Depending on your clients’ preferred communication methods, reminders can be sent via postcard, phone call, email, text message or a combination.

Take Advantage of Free Resources

Burdette explained that the Partners for Healthy Pets website is a great tool for veterinary practices interested in establishing forward booking. It offers a number of instructional videos and guidelines for staff, as well as buttons and flyers that can be used to communicate the program to clients. All of the materials can be downloaded for free.