Does your practice face the issue of patients not arriving to their appointments? The good news is that you are not alone, as statistics indicate this is an issue all medical practices face. The bad news is that you are missing revenue opportunities every time patients do not make it to their appointment.
Obviously, a revenue decrease can be debilitating to your practice — especially if it continues over time. Every practice should develop ways to reduce the number of people who fail to keep their appointments.
Where to start
First, it is important to track your no-shows. As the old saying goes: If you do not track it, you cannot change it. Make sure you know how many no-shows you have and evaluate any patterns you begin to see. Evaluate if the no-shows are related to the same patient, the same type of service, the same time of day or day of the week, etc. Performing this type of analysis will hopefully help you identify the issue so you can determine a proper solution.
You also need to define no-shows for tracking purposes. Are appointment changes being classified as no-shows? How are you categorizing cancellations? Typically, the best definition of a no-show is a patient who never arrived for a scheduled appointment and did not give previous notice. However, a patient that routinely cancels an appointment or changes the appointment time/date at the last minute could cause the same issues as a patient that does not show up at all.
Using automated reminder messages — whether by phone, text or email — can be helpful. Patients forget about their appointments, so a friendly reminder can make a difference.
Educating patients about the importance of keeping their appointments may reduce no-shows. It is important to explain that not showing up for an appointment will reduce the effectiveness of treatment. After their initial visits, remind patients at every point of contact on how to cancel or reschedule their appointments if necessary.
Also, make sure it is easy for patients to cancel and reschedule appointments. Some practices offer an online scheduling service that makes it easy for patients to schedule or reschedule appointments.
And when patients do show up to their appointments, it is a good idea to thank them. Thanking unreliable patients when they do arrive on time can be a particularly effective positive reinforcement.
What are the most effective policies?
If you do not have a no-show policy, create one. There are a lot of different ways to do this. Hold patients accountable for missing appointments.
It is a good idea to optimize your schedule as much as possible. If you have patients who are chronic no-shows, offer them appointment times when the practice is less busy. Doing so allows you to provide peak appointment times to more consistent patients, and those who often do not show up may appreciate less time spent in the waiting room.
In addition, it is rather unusual to allow prepaid appointments, but some practices have tried this with success. A patient who has already paid for the appointment has a greater incentive to show up. You could offer a discount to patients who prepay for their next visit or enter the names of pre-payers into a drawing for a gift card each month.
It is probably impossible to eliminate no-shows altogether. And patients cancel for many reasons, not just forgetfulness. But with consistent policies and some creativity, you can likely decrease the number of no-shows your practice experiences — and keep your bottom line healthier over time.
Sidebar: Approaches that may cause problems
Some approaches to dealing with no-shows can become problematic in and of themselves. Here are some policies that you may want to avoid:
If you use automated messages, make sure they allow for an easy way to respond. Recorded messages are far more effective if a patient can select an option to return the call directly and immediately, rather than having to hang up the phone, call the office, go through the phone tree and wait to talk to someone.
If your practice double-books appointments, you are gambling that some patients will not show up. But when everyone does come in, double-booking results in long wait times, annoyed patients and minimal time with the physician.
For more information, contact Kevin Omahen at [email protected] or 312.670.7444. Visit ORBA.com to learn more about our Health Care Group.