Patient no-shows are the bane of every medical office, and having strategies in place to reduce them is essential. Whatever the reason behind them, from sickness and emergencies, to forgetfulness or financial issues, you will find ways to reduce the numbers of no-shows in your office by trying these 8 tips.
Tip #1: Make Daily Reminder Calls
Designate a staff member to make reminder calls each afternoon for the next day’s appointments. It can be a good idea to request that patients let you know if they can’t make it, and remind them that you would appreciate the ability to offer the time slot to someone else if they know they won’t be able to come in. This will prompt a timely cancellation rather than a last minute no-show. When you get a patient on the phone and have a verbal confirmation from them, they are less likely to no-show.
Tip #2: Set Up Automatic Reminders
Using an automated notification service to send secure text or email appointment reminders is a good idea even if you are already making reminder phone calls. It provides an additional avenue for reaching patients, and if you have a day when making reminder calls is not feasible you’ll still have your bases covered if you have automated reminders in place. For example, PCC’s software includes a feature called Notify that lets you automate reminders for appointments (as well as recalls and account balance notifications). These services are so easy, it doesn’t make sense not to use them.
Tip #3: Keep A Wait List
Keep a current and specific wait list so that you have options to fill in the gaps. You may want to include the days and times patients are available, and if they are close enough to your practice to take an appointment with short notice. If you do have a no-show, you can refer to this list to fill the time slot and not lose income.
Tip #4: Don’t Wait To Reschedule Your No-Shows
Rescheduling no-shows after they occur is not a technique to prevent them from happening in the first place. However, the fact that you made an effort to reach out in person to check on the patient shows care and concern, and establishes the kind of personal connection that will make them less likely to no-show next time. Patients who miss an appointment will often make an effort to ensure they don’t skip the next one.
It’s a good rule of thumb to reach out to patients who no-show right away. If you wait for the patient to call you, you may be waiting in vain. Awkwardness over a missed appointment sometimes prevents people from calling. Try waiting 10 or 15 minutes past the appointment time, and then make a call that sounds something like,
“Hi there (patient’s name), we’re calling to check in with you. We had you scheduled for a 10 a.m. appointment today and didn’t see you. You may be on your way and running a little late, but if not, we want to make sure to get you back on the schedule as soon as possible.”
Keeping a non-accusatory tone, rather than reprimanding the patient for missing the appointment or mentioning no-show fees is the way to go if you want to get that person back in the door. If your office does charge a fee, wait to bring it up until the next appointment when the patient is right there in front of you at check-in.
Tip #5: Some Patients Need Extra Reminders
Some patients like to get a reminder at a specific time, outside of when you typically make your daily reminder calls. Even if you call them the day before some patients just won’t remember. For these patients, calling the morning of their appointment or even an hour or two prior will negate them becoming a no-show. This may seem like a lot of extra hand-holding, but the small effort it takes you to make an extra call is worth not losing the income from a missed appointment. Some patients may know this about themselves and request a reminder at a certain time. Or when you notice certain patients always forget appointments, suggest trying this strategy to them and watch how it will decrease your no-show rate.
Tip #6: Be Proactive With Your Schedule
Almost every practice has that one patient who shows up late for every appointment, every time. Like clockwork, they stroll in the door after their appointment time has passed by, still expecting to be seen. Rather than repeat this pattern every time, punishing them with no-show fees or turning them away from care because you are already with the next patient, you can choose to proactively manage the scheduling of these patients.
For example, some patients are very predictable with their late arrivals, showing up 15 or 30 minutes late every time. When you notice a strong pattern, one tack to take is tell them their appointment is at 10 a.m., have their reminder call remind them to come at 10 a.m., but put them on your schedule for 10:30 a.m. That way when they arrive “late” for their 10 a.m. appointment, they will be right on time for when you actually expected to see them and you will not have a gap in your schedule. This is not meant to be sneaky, and the scenario is uncommon enough that you won’t need to employ this strategy too frequently. But with those patients who simply cannot be trained to arrive on time, this tip will save you a lot of frustration in the end.
Tip #7: Offer Pre-Paid Packages
A patient who pre-pays for a series of visits is more likely to show up for those visits. When a patient knows missing an appointment means losing a visit from their package and the payment associated with it, they will make more of an effort to get there. This strategy works well for cash patients who pay out of pocket, or can even be used for paying a series of copays or deductible fees in advance.
Tip #8: Have A Written Policy
Standard operating procedure should be that a patient reads and signs a missed appointment policy along with the other new patient paperwork at their first visit. Posting a sign at the front desk with this policy can also be helpful. That way, no one can claim they didn’t know about the ramifications of no-showing for an appointment.
It’s common to allow one missed appointment free and clear of any charges, but charging a missed appoinment fee for any no-shows after that should help reduce skipped appointments. Some practices will charge a nominal fee of something like $25-35, while others will charge the full cost of the appointment. The details are up to you. Of course, exceptions can be made on a case by case basis, and typically offices do not charge for sickness or emergencies. Additionally, patients with Medicaid legally cannot be charged.
Encourage your patients not to miss their appointment rather than punish them after they do. It doesn’t take much effort to impact your results – something as simple as a reminder call can go a long way toward reducing your no-show rates. Give these tips a try and see for yourself.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2016 and updated in December 2017.