To charge a cancellation fee or not to charge a cancellation fee: one of the toughest questions that a dietitian in private practice must answer.
Last-minute client cancellations can be frustrating, challenging, and wind up costing a dietitian a significant amount of money. Unfortunately, establishing and enforcing a cancellation policy can be sensitive and challenging, particularly for dietitians seeking to expand their practice. So, it’s no surprise that we are asked to give a perspective on cancellation policies all the time!
In this post, we’ll walk through the reasons why having a cancellation policy makes place for most dietitians in private practice, and provide some tips for setting one yourself.
Let’s face it – having clients cancel or reschedule appointments at the last second wastes time, means money not coming in the door, and is one of the leading reasons why practices build slower than expected. Having a cancellation policy can be a great way to prevent, or at least reduce the impact of, last minute changes in client schedules, and also ensure that you’re compensated for the time you’ve set aside. We believe, and have seen from our own experiences, that while having a policy won’t eliminate this problem all together, it will reduce the impact of these cancellations on your wallet.
Here are some levers to think about when creating a policy:
- Window of cancellation – within 24 hours? Within 48 hours?
- The fee – cost of the entire appointment? Standard fee of $25 or $50?
- Intent to reschedule – is the client seeking to reschedule for another time, and able to commit?
- First offender forgiveness – do clients get to miss one appointment before they are charged?
Here are some tips to consider when setting your office’s cancellation policy:
State your policy clearly and simply:
For example: Our office has established a cancellation policy such that clients must give notice more than 24 hours in advance of their appointment. If cancelling within 24 hours but before the appointment window, clients will be charged a fee of $30. No-shows will be charged the full out-of-pocket fee for their appointment.
Keep your statement concise, easy to understand, and inclusive of all the information a client needs to be held accountable.
State your policy visibly: Post it in your office, include it as part of initial paperwork, or state it on your website when clients book with you. It’s hard to enforce a policy retroactively, so make sure clients know what they’re signing up for when booking with you!
Know how you’re going to get paid: Establish a protocol – are you going to keep a credit card on file? Are you comfortable sending an invoice for cancellations after the fact? Whatever you decide, make sure to have a plan in place!
Don’t be afraid to actually enforce it: We understand that there will be one-off occasions where you’ll waive your cancellation policies, and in those instances, it makes total sense. But, be sure to stick with the policy you set in place, because if you don’t enforce it once, you create a cadence where it’s okay for clients to skip and miss appointments.
We get it – cancellations can be tough. But we believe that by setting a cancellation policy, you can make your schedule and career as a dietitian in private practice a little more predictable.
Here’s the silver lining – online billing and practice management platforms like Healthie can make it easier to establish cancellation policies, and collect payments as they are required. Feel free to contact us if you want some additional guidance on how to establish policies for your practice!
Download our sample cancellation policy: