Healthcare is an expensive business. One preventable factor that often drives up costs for physicians and patients alike is appointment no-shows.
According to the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), the average practice experiences a 5-7% patient no-show rate. This can translate to thousands to millions of dollars of lost annual revenue—depending on the size of the practice.
If you manage a medical practice, you need to take steps to cut your no-show rate and stop unnecessary revenue drain. There are several proven ways you can reverse your missed appointment trend.
1. Automate Appointment Reminders
A key study published in the American Journal of Medicine (AJOM) validated that automated appointment reminder phone calls can sharply cut a practice’s patient no-show rate. In the study, the no-show rate for patients who received no pre-appointment reminder was 23.1%. Placing an automated reminder call three days before the scheduled visit dropped the patient no-show rate to 17.3%.
2. Use Same-Day Appointment Reminders
Although the AJOM study confirmed the benefit of automated reminders, the resulting patient no-show rate was still extremely high. That could be because the three-day pre-apointment notification was too far in advance. One way to shrink your no-show rate even further is to institute same-day reminders to connect with patients on the day of their appointments. You can choose to confirm with everyone on the day’s schedule or just reach out to those with whom you have not made contact.
3. Institute a Confirm or Auto-Reschedule Policy
Some practices may find benefit in requiring appointment confirmations from customers. If you go this route, you may also implement an automatic reschedule policy if you have not heard from patients within a specified time window before the appointment. While this may not work for every appointment, this approach may have value for appointments for certain lengthy procedures which can book up significant time on a physician’s schedule.
4. Adopt a Multi-Channel Approach
Reaching out to patients via phone has long been an industry standard practice. However, the proliferation of new communications options has motivated many practices to explore a multi-channel approach. This aligns well with emerging patient preferences. In one patient poll, 65% of respondents indicated that they would like to receive appointment reminders via email. That study also revealed that patients would appreciate proactive notifications via email and text to schedule preventative care appointments.
Other studies have validated that using text can benefit more than just your daily appointment schedule. Using texts can improve appointment adherence. They can also can help patients with chronic conditions—such as HIV/AIDS or diabetes—keep up with medication and treatment regimens.
5. Collect and Use Patient Communications Preferences
If you adopt multi-channel contact, you should ask patients their preferred method to receive communications from your practice—phone, text, or email. You also be sure to follow their preferences as often as possible. This shows that you value their time and input. However, if you are facing a potential missed appointment or have another critical need to contact a patient, you can use other channels to make contact in an effective way—especially if prior contact attempts via preferred channels have failed.
6. Know Your Patients’ Contact History and Patterns
The right technology can do more than just send out generic appointment reminders to patients. It can also keep track of contact attempts and whether or not they were successful in engaging patients. Building on this data, smart technology solutions can understand best times to reach out to increase the likelihood of contact.
7. Understand Which Patients are More Likely to Miss Appointments
Studies conducted across multiple medical specialties have revealed that certain categories of patients are more likely to miss appointments. Those groups include:
- Patients who are younger than 35 years of age
- Patients with an outstanding account balance with your practice
- Patients who have a scheduled routine, annual exam, or non-urgent visit
- Patients of low socioeconomic status
In addition, studies have also revealed that patient no-show rates tend to spike during the first and last weeks of each month. Patient cash-flow issues could be the root cause of this issue.
By knowing which types of patients have the greatest no-show risk, you can tailor communications and reminder practices to reach these patients.
Lowering Patient No-Shows with Appointment Reminders
Adopting a proactive, multi-channel appointment reminder strategy is an imperative for any medical practice wishing to cut costs and improve its bottom line. While other alternatives—such as patient no-show fees, double booking, or terminating patients from the practice—do exist, these can be cumbersome to administer and decrease your practice’s positive perception and goodwill in your community.
Smart medical practitioners are recognizing the strategic and economic value of high-quality appointment reminders.
Engage with Us
If you are in the business of healthcare, we would value your thoughts on this important industry topic. Respond to one of our questions or offer your own thoughts in the space below:
- Does your practice experience a higher or lower no-show rate than the 5-7% industry standard noted by MGMA?
- What approaches do you use to handle patient no-shows?
- How do you issue pre-appointment reminders to patients?
We look forward to your input.