Reducing Patient No-show Rates and Last-minute Cancellations
The phrase “time is money” rings especially true in the healthcare industry. That’s why practices invest a lot of time and money streamlining—and continually refining—various operational processes, like patient scheduling, to improve their workflow, cut down on as much waste as possible, and boost their productivity and profitability.
However, even medical practices with the most efficient workflow processes may not have an appointment policy in place for patients who don't attend their scheduled appointments—patients many of us in the industry call “no shows” or “DNKA” (Did Not Keep Appointment). Regardless of what you call it, a missed appointment translates into heavy losses for a medical practice: lost time, lost productivity, lost revenue, and lost trust.
When a patient fails to show up for his appointment, he robs the practice of precious time and resources. The patient has secured time with not only the doctor—whose time is in short supply and therefore incredibly valuable—but also with the support staff who keeps the practice running. Once an appointment has been missed, the practice has not only lost an opportunity to generate some sort of reimbursement, but in most cases, the patient also needs to be rescheduled, effectively taking twice as much of the practice’s time.
The winning question is: What can you do about it?
Enforcing a No-show and Last-minute Cancellation Policy
First things first: include a no-show/late cancellation policy in your paperwork if you haven’t already.
While many practices do implement a no-show and last-minute cancellation policy, it's surprising how many still don’t. Some practices may be hesitant to enforce such a policy because of our industry’s increasing emphasis on patient satisfaction scores, for example. Others simply may not know how to implement one. However, your no-show/last-minute cancellation policy doesn’t have to be unfriendly or even complex.
Here's a sample policy we’ve drafted for you to include in patient paperwork:
All appointments not cancelled within 24/48 hours prior to the appointment time are subject to a [amount] fee. The [amount] fee will be charged to you for a missed appointment. Payment of the missed appointment fee is required before you will be allowed to schedule another appointment. If you need to cancel or reschedule your appointment, we kindly ask that you notify the office as soon as possible so that another patient may use the time slot.
See how simple yet effective that is? By inserting a short, clear paragraph stating your policy, your patients know what you expect from them in exchange for your time and services.
You’re off to a great start, but there are additional steps you can take to further reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations.
Minimizing Missed Appointments: It’s All in the Follow-up
In terms of the carrot (appointment) and the stick (no-show fee), it's important to provide some gentle nudges (appointment reminders) along the way. Then, if and how hard you strike is up to you; there really is no right answer. But if you've held up your end of the bargain, it's only fair for patients to hold up theirs.
Vital Interaction partners with practices to reduce the volume of no-shows by up to 30 percent. To accomplish this, we deploy various messaging strategies via our Automated Patient Interaction System, which empowers healthcare organizations to communicate more effectively with patients using text messaging, automated voice, and email.
As part of these communication strategies, Vital Interaction can send a no-show message shortly after the missed appointment.
Here are a few messaging tactics examples, both with and without mention of a fee:
Tactic 1: Sending a Simple Reminder with an Attempt to Reschedule
Hi, [patient’s name], you missed your appointment with [physician name or medical practice]. Please call our office at [phone number] to reschedule your appointment. We look forward to hearing from you.
Tactic 2: Delivering a Small Dose of Shame
Hello, [patient’s name], this is [medical practice]. You missed an appointment with [provider’s name]. In the future please cancel by calling [phone number] at least 24 hours in advance so that others can use the open time slot. If you still need an appointment, please contact us at [phone number] to reschedule.
Tactic 3: Restating the Policy
Hi, [patient’s name], you missed your appointment with [provider’s name or medical practice]. We ask that you give our office at least 24 hours notice when cancelling your appointment. Failure to do so will result in a $25 cancellation fee that must be paid before a future appointment can be scheduled. To confirm you would like to schedule an appointment with us, please Press 1 and you will be connected to our office. If you have already scheduled your appointment, please disregard this message.
Whether practice administrator, physician, staff, or patient, everyone plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of your practice’s schedule. It all starts with ensuring everyone involved understands the value of a scheduled appointment.
In the nearly 10 years we’ve been helping practices interact more effectively with their patients via leading-edge technology, we’ve observed some truly amazing improvements in no-show rates and last-minute cancellations from using these strategies. Which tactics have helped your practice cut down on no-shows and late cancellations? We’d love to hear from you!
To learn more about the benefits of having an automated messaging system in place, check out our case studies here.
In the market for a patient interaction system that significantly reduces no-shows and last-minute cancellations? Schedule a demo today—we’d love to show you all the bells and whistles of our system!