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    Operation rescue: How to recapture canceled and no-show patients

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    Between a quarter and a third of an elective surgery practice's revenue is lost due to cancellations or no-shows, according to William Scholar, M.S.R.N., president and executive director of Scholar Medical Management, a practice management firm based in Ashaway, RI.

    Mr. Scholar tells Cosmetic Surgery Times that that startling statistic is not only documented, but also reflects what he has noted among his clients with cosmetic surgery practices. The typical practice doesn't resurrect these "dead" patient files, often for lack of time and manpower. But that's a mistake, according to Mr. Scholar, who claims that his services can turn 80 percent of those files into active patients who complete procedures.

    COSMETIC SURGEONS VULNERABLE Patients are more likely to cancel a facelift than surgery to remove a gallbladder gone bad.

    "We have found in cosmetic surgery that there are a lot of second thoughts...," Mr. Scholar says. "The patients leave, having had their preliminary examination, and they are all in favor of [having the procedure]."

    Then, he says, those second thoughts creep in. The patient might have heard something dreadful on the news or talked to somebody who had a bad experience.

    "There is a lot of handholding that is required [to keep from losing patients for good]," he says.

    OTHER REASONS THEY FLEE Mr. Scholar says that he's learned that the top reasons patients don't follow through include financial concerns, fear or uncertainty, a negative impression of the practice after a consultation and external life issues.

    Of these, financial concerns might be the easiest fix. Mr. Scholar says that a practice can often avoid losing patients to cost if the practice offers competitive financing options. Patients need to be aware of their options and, if necessary, a practice should be prepared to assist patients in ways that make obtaining financing as painless as possible.

    As for other reasons, "Fear is a factor," Mr. Scholar notes. "And, sometimes, the problem is within the practice. It might be the way patients were treated or how long they had to wait."

    Sometimes, patients don't follow through because they aren't ready to take the plunge and aren't receiving answers to their questions nor encouragement; thus the decision for elective surgery fades to indecision, Mr. Scholar explains.

    Further, some patients cancel or don't show just because their lives become complicated, according to Mr. Scholar.

    "One of the better examples I can give is a woman had to have her dog put to sleep and that was all she could deal with that week," he relates.

    SHE'S ALIVE! Bringing these patients back into the fold takes commitment, patience, organization, understanding and handholding, says Mr. Scholar. But it doesn't have to take oodles of time.

    Mr. Scholar's firm calls more than 4,000 lost patients a week on behalf of their clients. Among the secrets to their success is ensuring a personal connection — one that a patient feels is on behalf of the physician.

    "We do not stop at the answering machine — we make personal contact," Mr. Scholar says.

    DESIGNATED CALLER If you prefer to pursue such outreach efforts in-house, then one person should be designated to devote the time needed to call these patients without interruption.

    "If you're working in a busy practice, chances are you're going to be contacting people while [you're doing other tasks]. This does not allow you to develop the tempo that is required to make such calls," he says.

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    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is a writer in Boca Raton, Fla., who heads up her company, Words Come Alive.

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