Missed appointments are not just frustrating for clinic staff and DCs, they are also lost revenue and missed opportunities to help patients.
Your patients that show up on time may feel shortchanged when clinic schedules are overbooked, but you feel like you need to make up for the inevitable no-shows. As a result, you may feel overwhelmed, disappointed and frustrated. Preventing and managing no-shows is difficult sometimes.
If you want to reduce your no-show rate and handle missed appointments appropriately, investing in some changes to how you respond may help you boost attendance. Handle missed appointments differently by incentivizing participation, providing reminders and discouraging patients from choosing to miss appointments.
Create the right incentives
Patients may not have enough compelling reasons to show up. Although participating and attending appointments is beneficial for our health, human nature sometimes makes it easy to overlook long-term health for short-term incentives. If your patients do not feel like they are missing something when they skip appointments, maybe a significant overhaul is overdue.
Finding little or big ways to incentivize showing up at appointments on-time may pay dividends for your clinic. Here are a few ideas:
- Contests/Drawings—Have ongoing drawings for simple, inexpensive prizes such as giftcards. For every time a patient shows up on-time, give them one entry. It may be cheaper to do this than cover no-shows on a regular basis.
- Prepay—Give patients the opportunity to prepay for future appointments, or pay for part of their appointment in advance. They may be more motivated to come back if they already paid.
- Appreciation—Patients that cancel or reschedule ahead and allow you enough time to plan should be appreciated. Thank them and tell them how much it means to you that they gave you advanced notice.
- Discounts/Freebies—Providing a modest discount or free product to on-time patients can be a nice incentive to show up. Consider partnering with a local business in the health and wellness industry to give out free samples, a coupon or free trial that your patients would be interested in. Maybe a local health spa or retailer has supplement samples, for instance. They might be willing to give you free stuff you could share with your patients.
Using reminders can also help. Some practice management systems have built-in systems to help send patient reminders before appointments, for instance. Other reminders require a little creativity on your part, but they could be worth the effort. It is true that sometimes people forget and not all no-shows happen on purpose, so it is important to remind patients of upcoming appointments whenever possible.
Try these suggestions:
- Confirm Information at Appointments—Because contact information may change, using reminders only works if you can reach your patients. Verify their contact info at every appointment.
- Text Messaging—A patient reminder system that uses SMS text messaging may improve attendance, so consider it for your practice. Keep in mind that text messaging is no longer a teenage communication tool—every generation uses texting and it is becoming increasingly important in professional contexts. Use it as an opportunity to reach your patients!
- Mail—For infrequent patients, sending a letter in the mail a few weeks before an appointment can be a great reminder.
- Business Cards—When new appointments are scheduled, have clinic staff members write each patient’s appointment day and time on the back of a business card for your practice. That way, patients take home a tangible reminder of their appointment along with a phone number for the clinic in case they need to cancel.
- Phone Calls—The traditional reminder phone call is still effective for many patients, so it is another great approach to reminders.
If you are looking for the right disincentives to miss appointments, figure out how to boost participation without leaving patients feeling unfairly penalized. Here are a few possible strategies:
- Modest Fees—Placing a fee on a patient’s account when they miss appointments is one way to discourage no-show behavior. If you want, you could even place a fee on every appointment that is completely refunded when patients show up on-time, encouraging participation. If you choose to use fees, be very upfront about it so no one feels surprised when they see their bill.
- Dropping Patients—No clinic likes to lose patients, but in a worst-case scenario situation with a patient who frequently misses appointments, you may be forced to reject future visits with that person. For instance, a patient with five or more no-show appointments in a year might have to wait six months before getting another appointment with your clinic. Remember, patients that consistently avoid appointments are not doing your clinic (or themselves) any favors. Mistakes do happen, however, so it is important to allow a few no-shows before dropping anyone from your practice.
Being willing to change your responses can help your clinic become more proactive about no-show appointments. Remember, the health of your patients is important enough that your clinic should care deeply about no-shows. It is more than just lost revenue, it is lost opportunity to improve someone’s health and wellbeing. Keeping that mindset will help you focus on your patients.
- “30 Ways to Reduce Patient No-Shows.” MGMA.com. http://www.mgma.com/blog/30-ways-to-reduce-patient-no-shows. Published: July 2010. Accessed: August 2017.
- Izard, T. “Managing the Habitual No-Show Patient.” Family Practice Management. http://www.aafp.org/fpm/2005/0200/p65.html. Published: February 2005. Accessed: August 2017.