It’s 11.16 and your patient still hasn’t showed up, it’s the third time this month. And even if they do show up, you can’t delay the next appointment. Sometimes, it just isn’t possible for someone to make it to an appointment as life demands a lot of us and we simply just forget. This is why appointment reminders and confirmations are mandatory.
Despite these pressures, it is possible to develop a strategy to help reduce patient no-shows in your health care business. A strategy is an important thing to have in place because when patients miss their appointments, the impact it has on you is three-fold:
You need to spend time rescheduling their appointment
You may need to work harder to reduce any risk to their long-term health
Your business will take a financial hit
When patients miss their appointment, everybody pays. In fact, it’s been calculated that patients who miss appointments—aka no-shows—are costing the US health care system $150 billion every year. On average, this means your health care practice will lose $200 every time an appointment is canceled. With some strategic planning, however, you can take steps towards reducing the number of patient no-shows in your health care business. By understanding why people fall into the ‘no-show’ category, and making use of available services and technology, you can minimize disruption to your schedule and let your business stay on track.
Why do patients no-show for their appointments? No-shows will have a range of reasons why they couldn’t show up on the day. Most of the time, these aren’t excuses but valid reasons that your business may learn from:
They forgot they had an appointment. Research indicates that as many as 9 out of 10 Americans struggle to remember what their doctor told them during a consultation. And, who could blame them? Seeing a physician can be intimidating. We all want to be told we’re fit and healthy. Nerves and emotions can rise to the surface during a health examination, which can distract patients. During a conversation, they may not be listening attentively to key information. To help them remember, include the provision of a written transcript or detailed overview of the next steps following each of your consultations.
They had last minute work obligations. The modern workplace is a demanding beast. Most of the time, we are expected to lean in to our jobs during busy times and adapt our personal lives to an employer’s demands. When we don’t, it can sometimes harm our reputation or even affect our chances at a promotion. According to recent reports, for many people work will take precedence over other scheduled appointments. Therefore, try to make your business flexible to your patients’ work-life demands by making it as easy as possible to reschedule appointments.
They weren’t able to contact you. If customers aren’t able to get in touch, no business can operate effectively. If your customers can’t get through to you on the phone to let you know they’re unable to attend an appointment, then you need to find ways that they can. Beyond the good-old-fashioned telephone, there are many ways to easily utilize technology to enable your customers to tell you when they can’t make an appointment.
They didn’t have the money. When over 30 million people in North America lack medical insurance, your health care practice will be taking a risk on anyone who doesn’t have a robust plan of how they’re going to pay you. If you haven’t done so already, consider offering more attractive packages to patients in the form of payment plans. To check the impact of accepting monthly or quarterly payments on your cash flow, all you need is some simple financial modelling. Also, consider if it’s worth adding a small surcharge to cover your cashflow needs. Alternatively, you could incentivize bulk-buying or up-front payments with multi-buy or early-bird discounts.
They couldn’t travel to the appointment. Unfortunately, contracting COVID19 is a modern-day health risk for all of us. Therefore, keeping your staff, your customers and yourself safe in these times should be your highest priority. Should getting to the appointment be an issue for patients—due to fears around the pandemic or not—you should consider partnering with transportation service that could help customers travel safely to and from their next appointment.
They didn’t realize what was at stake by not showing up. If patients don’t understand that your business (and their health) could suffer by not showing up to a planned appointment, then tell them. You can create better relationships with your patients by emphasizing how missed appointments are detrimental to their health and to your business. When you send out reminder texts or emails, not only are you opening a communication channel, but also notifying your clients of your cancellation policy.
7 Ways to reduce patient no-shows
- Set up automated appointment reminders.
Whichever communication channel you use, reminding customers that they have an appointment coming up should be standard practice for your business. However, where evidence shows that reminders sent by email and SMS reduce the rate of no-shows by at least 80%, it makes sense to consider automation. Plus, when you think about it, it makes sense to save your staff the time they’ll spend calling customers. When 69% of consumers want a business to contact them via text message, it should be your priority to set up text reminders. Automated appointment reminders could save you time, money and ensure your customers get to where they need to be more often than not.
- Use online scheduling.
Anticipating customer behaviour is the key to reducing no-shows. But, what do we mean by this? Well, patients will often feel bad if they need to cancel an appointment at the last minute. Instead, they’ll just choose not to show up (in other words, ‘no-show’ equals ‘avoid bad feelings’). This is, however, not a good situation for your business. Instead, consider giving patients the option to book their appointments online using online scheduling. By doing this, you’ll help them feel in control. Plus, if they do want to cancel, they can avoid any in-person bad feelings by sending a cancellation online.
- Create waitlist notifications.
Waitlist notifications not only build anticipation in your patients, making them value their appointment more, but also let you offer an appointment when another patient cancels. While you’ll need the right software to automate this, you could see cancellations quickly
replaced by an eager waiting list. And, since they’ve been waiting, they should be less likely to no-show.
- Request feedback after each appointment.
In any good relationship, it’s important to listen to the other person and take on board their thoughts and feelings. With this information, you can increase the chances of making them happy by giving them what they need. To build a strong relationship with your patients, consider conducting feedback surveys using texts. If you haven’t seen a patient for a while, use SMS to gain insight about communication preferences and then use this to inform how you’ll engage with them.
- Match the preferences of your customers.
Once you’ve secured your customer insights, consider using these to build an effective customer journey. This could involve plotting specific marketing touch-points for when and how you want to communicate with them. For example, you could start their journey by prompting them to book appointments online using Google or social media channels. Then, using a mix of both SMS and email
communications to support the entire user journey, you could automate appointment reminders and provide details on the appointment. Offering a range of ways to pay, linked to providers such as PayPal, can also be done through automation.
- Ensure staff are pro-active in addressing no-shows.
If you don’t have one, we recommend outlining your business terms and conditions in an appointment booking policy. Then, with this written and agreed policy, you can inform your staff of your values, terms and best practice protocols so it’s at the forefront of their minds.
With this, they’ll be better able to navigate bookings, missed appointments and to share your expectations with customers. To stay on top of this, consider setting up SMS reminders to support staff involved.
- Set expectations with patients on why it’s important to show up. Ultimately, your patients need to understand what they’re signing up to. If your minimum notice period for a canceled appointment is 24 hours, then make sure you tell your customers. If they don’t know the rules, how can they follow them? Embedding expectations into your messaging can easily be done with simple text messaging automation. However, it’s important to make sure you’re in the know about data privacy, compliance and online security.
A little planning can go a long way
In the digital age, there really should be no excuse to avoid communicating with your patients. However, this is often what patients do when they can’t show up to an appointment. With the use of cellphones and smartphones set to increase over the next 5 years, scheduling automated reminders using SMS and email is becoming the norm.
On top of this, your customers are expecting to engage with your brand throughout most of their digital platforms. By understanding what your clients are looking for—and the demands they’re up against—and by taking the time to make a plan, with communications tailored to your customer’s needs, you could see more appointments filled and less revenue lost due to no-shows.
This is a guest post by Alexa Lemzy. Customer support manager and blog author at Textmagic.com