Doctor meeting with patient that made her appointment

3 Reasons Your Patients Are Missing Scheduled Appointments

Healthcare providers, therapists, and those who run other kinds of appointment-based businesses deal with missed appointments all the time. As one medical college notes, “No-show rates vary by practice, but they’re typically somewhere between 5 and 10 percent (although they can be much higher).” Even if your practice’s patient no-shows are just at the 5 percent level, that’s a significant chunk of lost revenue and staff time. And the resulting tension—charging no-show fees, or just having patients who feel pestered to reschedule—reduces the likelihood that they’ll stick with your practice. As much time and thought as business owners put into marketing to attract new clients, we don’t often put the same effort into preventing the loss of existing clients.

All of which points to two questions we’ll explore in this post: What are the three most common reasons for missed appointments? And how does an effective appointment reminder system deal with them?

Reason #1: They forget or have the wrong info.

As with so many things in life, the main explanation for no-shows is the simplest one: patients and clients miss appointments because they forget about them entirely or forget which day or what time slot they have. Even having your patients sign an appointment policy and pay missed appointment fees is not enough to prevent the issue of forgetting. And simply rescheduling is not a good solution either: the data shows that missed appointments tend to lead to further missed appointments. A much sounder solution is a robust automated reminder system that retains your patients’ contact information and confirms their appointment time via text messages, phone calls, and email. Most of us deal with so much complexity in our lives and schedules, an “external hard drive” in the form of automated reminders is just what our memories need. It’s not like you would try to remember all of your practice’s appointments. Of course you have a system in place for that, so why not help your patients out by offering them a system too?

Reason #2: They feel anxious about coming.

Whether you’re a primary care physician, you run a different type of medical practice or healthcare organization, or you’re in a different industry altogether, when it comes to getting people in the door and retaining them as clients, connection matters. If someone has had negative prior experiences with healthcare providers, hasn’t yet met you or your staff, or is unclear why they need their next screening or consultation, they may feel anxious about coming to their appointment. That anxiety can be mostly related to appointment cost or the potential cost of procedures (see reason #3, below). Or it can relate more to lack of clarity about why the appointment is necessary, fear of scolding or a difficult diagnosis, or to simple uncertainty about what will happen.

Whatever the cause of their anxiety happens to be, the result is that non-attendance is a huge issue in terms of successfully onboarding and retaining new clients. Even with follow-up reminders, not everyone will feel your practice is affordable or is the right fit for them. But how much better is it on all levels to to find out in a timely manner if they will be at their next appointment or if the time slot should be filled by someone else? And since over 85% of people say they want appointment reminders, offering such reminders in a frictionless, automated way will help you get off on a good footing with new patients. Even something as simple as responding to a text or email offers them a method of control and participation that may help assuage that pesky anxiousness.

Reason #3: They are under financial pressure or time pressure.

Let’s face it, most people today find the healthcare industry expensive and time-consuming to navigate. Someone might want the services your clinicians offer but remain uncertain if Medicare or their health insurance will cover it. Or they may be worried that traveling to and attending their appointment will take more time than they have to spare that day. Indeed, at any given time, some percentage of the appointments on your business’s calendar have been made by people who are concerned they can’t afford the appointment charges or are unsure if they can take the time off work or away from their family.

There’s no way to know which patients are facing which issues or uncertainties in terms of money, work, or home life, but there is a simple way to help them either confirm or cancel their appointment. An effective appointment reminder system will allow both your office and your patients to have clarity about making their appointments on-time or, when necessary, cancelling them with sufficient notice.

Other common reasons for no-shows

Forgetting an appointment or having the wrong day or time in mind, feeling anxious about coming to the appointment, or being under financial strain or time constraints are the top three reasons why patients miss appointments. But there are many other reasons, too. Here are several additional common reasons that have to do with location and demographics. Patients commonly miss appointments because:

  • They lack transportation or live 60+ miles from your clinic
  • They are younger than 34
  • They are single/unmarried
  • They are older and recently widowed or divorced

For these and many other reasons, missed appointments plague the medical industry, among others. Billions of dollars each year are lost to no-shows—not to mention the strain on office resources when workflows are interrupted and staff time has to be reallocated toward contacting clients who have unexpectedly missed their appointments.

Don’t try to cover the world in leather, just offer your clients a pair of shoes

There’s an old parable about a king who wanted to cover the world in leather so he wouldn’t hurt his feet. After all, there’s no way to know ahead of time which patches of ground will be rough. A wise advisor offered him a much simpler solution: wear a pair of leather shoes.

Likewise, there’s no way to know which patients are facing which issues or uncertainties in terms of forgetting their appointment, feeling anxiety about it, or struggling with money, work, or home life, but there is a simple way to help them either confirm or cancel their appointment: offer them a pair of shoes in the form of hassle-free automated appointment reminders. An effective appointment reminder system will allow your patients to have clarity about getting to their appointments on-time or, when necessary, cancelling them with sufficient notice, and it doesn’t require them, or you, to know in advance what issues they might be dealing with in the days leading up to their appointment.

An automated appointment reminder system can dramatically reduce your no-shows, regardless the reason

There’s no way to find out in advance if a given new patient has trouble remembering their appointment times, has a chaotic schedule, is feeling anxious about coming, or has concerns about the money or time commitment. Although, as we’ve seen, people miss their appointments for these and a wide variety of other reasons, the good news is that automated appointment reminders are a simple way to address them all.

An effective reminder system can reduce your practice’s no-show rate by a lot, and fast! By offering your patient their preferred method of automated reminders—whether sms text messages, phone calls, emails, or a combination thereof—you have already made it as easy as possible for them to verify the day and time of their appointment and confirm, reschedule, or cancel it in advance. Studies show that this simple intervention can reduce no-shows by up to 90 percent, and you’ll see the positive change in your revenues quickly—often within a matter of days.

With Reminderly, you can customize text messages, phone calls, emails, and more so as to help your staff and clients have an easy time with scheduling and rescheduling (when necessary). Patients can call an appointment reminder number that they’ve been automatically provided, and the call will be forwarded to the practice's main line. Or they can text the number back, and their message will be forwarded to the email address you’ve chosen for that purpose. In the case of text messaging, the practice can easily have a back and forth conversation with the patient—a huge help for busy staff members, not to mention patients who are navigating work, kids, or other tasks that might make it impossible to be on a phone call. These options make it a lot easier for patients to communicate directly with the practice and get additional information, whether that relates to rescheduling, asking about what insurance information they need/what is covered, or calling the practice for more detailed conversations.

Reminderly’s software connects automatically with your existing calendar program, whether Google Calendar, Office 365, Calendly, or others, so that cancellations and rescheduling happen with as little time-commitment as possible on your end. Less staff time and happier clients: what’s not to like!

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