Different businesses have different tolerances to freezing temperatures. Major cold snaps affect businesses beyond the initial days when people won’t venture outside.
When weathermen predict a blizzard, fast food giants like McDonalds, Taco Bell and KFC will reduce or even stop shipping ingredients to their stores, saving them millions of dollars in food that would have perished instead of sold. Other brands like Kroger or Lowe’s do the opposite and rush to stock the shelves before the weather hits so people can stock up.
Let’s start with the obvious. During a blizzard there's an upswing in cancellations. (This is especially true in urology when your patient base is skewed older.) Redirecting the patient to reschedule can negate a loss of clinic time. However, as we know, even rescheduling is still a loss of billable hours you can never get back. The more serious and sneaky losses from a blizzard are hidden. They aren’t always immediate. They are seen and felt weeks after the storm.
Besides cancellations, the double-whammy during a storm is the dramatic decrease in people making new appointments. Seeing the doctor, (already not a well-loved task), falls even lower on everyone’s to-do list. So open appointment slots down the line don’t get filled like they would have been. And when this is finally noticed, its wrongfully blamed on something happening at that time, rather than the original cold snap that caused it.
The decrease in appointments during and following a storm, (a blizzard dip so to speak), will vary based on the services offered. Patients with urgent kidney stone pain will make an appointment no matter what the temperature is outside. Patients with BPH or OAB symptoms will call to cancel depending on how bothersome their symptoms are. ‘Elective’ procedures like vasectomies most often simply get cancelled. Ironically, OB/GYN practices actually see a big upswing in new patients around three to nine months later. Yes, the Stork Effect is a real thing.
Besides making sure all your cancellation requests are rescheduled, here’s a list of a few preparations to make before and after a blizzard to negate as much loss as possible. We use them as our three 'Golden Rules' of handling Blizzard Dips.
Use Telehealth appointments to your advantage. Redirect any in-clinic cancellations to this appointment format where patients don’t have to leave their house. Even try to keep the same appointment time, thus never losing a billable hour.
Consider briefly staying open on weeknights or start some weekend hours, specifically for rescheduling cancellations. In this manner, you aren’t simply kicking the issue down the road but can pick up the potential lost revenue within the same month. And, your patients will appreciate being able to get in so quickly. Remember, the more time they have to wait, the more chance there is to cancel or go elsewhere.
Start new marketing efforts for more ‘necessary’ appointments immediately after the blizzard. These ‘get in now’ appointments can quickly make up for potential appointments not made without any lag.
Many practices gradually absorb the dip without anyone noticing. Great! Maybe. That absorption may have been from your available openings being so far out, there was plenty of padded time to refill them. Maybe too much time. Let this be a good bell-weather (pun intended) indicator to look at.
If your available appointments are more than a month or two out, kudos. But are you losing out on some big growth? Consider adding billable support like an additional urologist or NP and pick up a lot of potential business that you are letting fall off the table.
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