No-shows are a major issue for the healthcare industry, with costs having risen to $150 billion per year. These missed appointments are a chronic drain on larger practices and can be fatal to small businesses trying to get off the ground.
A large percentage of no-shows are due to patients forgetting them or having the wrong appointment date or time in mind. But another significant factor is patient fear and anxiety. Many patients feel afraid of what might happen at their appointment. They feel anxious about the possibility of receiving a difficult diagnosis or needing to undergo tests. They feel confused about who they’ll be seeing and what the exact nature of their appointment is. And many new patients are often simply nervous about how they’ll be treated by their doctor or other provider. These feelings can easily tip them into deciding—consciously or unconsciously—to skip that next appointment.
In this blog post, we’ll look at how your medical office can use automated reminder messages not only to provide your patients with quick reminders but also to deliver something they may not know they want: a sense of warmth and connection to your practice. But first, let’s look a little more closely at the multiple costs of patient no-shows.
A no-show is a patient who doesn’t appear at the scheduled time for their appointment and gives no notice (or cancels with such little notice that there’s no possibility to fill the time slot). Unless your office charges a 100% no-show fee and is able to recoup it, the no-show represents a loss in anticipated revenue.
These losses can really add up as your office’s no-show rate compounds week after week, month after month, and year after year. But in addition to the financial losses, there are other, less obvious costs associated with no-shows. As this 2020 article in the journal Risk Management Healthcare Policy notes:
“The negative impacts of high no-shows are many and are not limited to the healthcare providers only but also affect those patients missing their appointment. Some of these harms include: a discontinued care process, longer waiting time for appointments, and higher (sometimes inappropriate) admissions to Emergency Room (ER) services. . . . Furthermore, missing a scheduled appointment causes a minimized access for other patients, [which] can create dissatisfaction among patients and healthcare providers, and suboptimal care results.”
Studies also reveal that when a patient doesn’t turn up for their scheduled appointment, they are more likely to miss future appointments as well, or even to drop away from your practice altogether. That’s bad for their continuity of care, and it’s also bad for your business.
Reminder messages go a long way toward reducing no-shows. For instance, the data shows that of patients who confirm their appointment in advance, more than 90% will not become no-shows or even need to reschedule. With an automated reminder service like Reminderly, you can quickly begin sending reminders via email, text message, and/or phone call—all while removing the hassle of patient follow-up from your staff. Reminderly offers an array of fully automatic or semi-automatic integrations with your appointment scheduling software, whether that’s Google calendar, Outlook 365, Calendly, Excel spreadsheets, or another system. If your business is like most of our clients, you’ll see a dramatic reduction in your no-show rate within a matter of weeks.
Basic reminder messages are very effective, but in this post I want to take it one step further to look at how reminders can incorporate warmth of tone to help alleviate the anxieties some of your patients are likely to be feeling.
In an article for the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers conducted interviews with 34 adult patients coming to a clinic for outpatient care. The researchers’ goal was to understand the patients’ own perceptions of why they sometimes don’t show up for scheduled appointments. In the summary of results, they write:
“Many of these participants experienced anticipatory fear and anxiety about both procedures and bad news. Participants did not feel obligated to keep a scheduled appointment in part because they felt disrespected by the health care system. The effect of this feeling was compounded by participants’ lack of understanding of the scheduling system.”
Let’s pull out the three key elements here:
It’s easy to see how these three elements could interplay and accentuate each other in a patient’s mind until that person crosses a threshold and decides not to come. Let’s use a case study to think it through...
Hirving is a 33 year old man with a wife and two kids. He makes his living painting homes and is incredibly busy, often buzzing between multiple projects each day. One day, he feels a sharp pain in his chest, along with some lightheadedness. Feeling scared, he books an appointment at a medical clinic. They’re quite busy, so he can’t get an appointment till the end of the following week. He considers going to the ER but decides against it, not wanting to scare his wife and kids.
As the days pass, Hirving feels terrified that his chest pain is some kind of serious heart problem. Yet he’s also worried that the doctors will order expensive tests—especially if they don’t end up showing anything. As more days pass, the chest pain comes and goes, but the lightheadedness gets better, and Hirving comes to think it’s probably just the effect of paint fumes. He thinks to himself that he’ll try to be better about wearing his filtration mask. He decides not to go to the medical appointment but doesn’t cancel it—he hasn’t received any reminder messages anyway, and he figures the clinic is busy enough without him. And he’s awfully busy himself. When he sees a call from the clinic’s number at the time of his appointment, he feels sheepish and doesn’t pick up, and he takes a mental note to not visit that clinic in the future.
Although this story is made up, thousands like it play out every day across the country. However, communicating with patients like Hirving in a way that makes them feel more comfortable will cause them to show up to their appointment.
One way to do this is by conveying a sense of warmth in your reminder messages. In what follows, we’ll focus on friendly reminder emails, though the same approach works with reminder phone calls and text messages.
Warmth isn’t always easy to convey via email (or text), but there are tips you can follow that will lead to more of your patients feeling that their reminder messages carry a personal and inviting touch. Here are some key elements to incorporate in your template:
Use the patient name. It’s simple, but it matters. By using their name (ideally, just their first name), you not only help your patients to spot your reminder email in the chaos of their inbox but also give them a small sense that this email is personal to them.
Offer positive reinforcement. Say something positive about the step they’re taking to maintain or improve their health. Although, to ensure privacy, you can’t offer any specifics about the appointment type in their email, you can say something general that encourages their decision to come.
Name the possibility of anxiety or fear. Naming the issue doesn’t hurt anybody—those who don’t find it pertinent will quickly skim over that part of the email. And it could be just what’s needed to reassure those patients who are struggling with anxiety or fear.
Convey openness. Steer clear of a totally impersonal tone, opting instead for a sense that the patient is dealing with real people on the other side. Let them know that you care about their appointment and are open to hearing their questions and concerns.
Subject line: Important details about your upcoming appointment at <business name>
Dear <patient name>,
We’re so glad you’ve booked an appointment with <provider name> at <business name>. We’re planning to see you on <day of week, date>, and your appointment start time is <time>.
Taking care of your health is so important, and we know it’s not easy to fit appointments into your busy schedule. So we appreciate you taking the time to come and see us. If you’re feeling anxious about your appointment, know that you’re not alone—lots of people feel that way. You’re more than welcome to call us at <business phone number> if you have any questions or concerns. Our business days are Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm.
If that appointment time does not work for you and you need to reschedule, please call us at 123-123-1234.
If possible, please fill out your intake paperwork <link> before your session. Though if you need to fill it out when you arrive, that’s totally ok.
All of us at <business name>
<links to important documents, office policies, directions, credit card payment link, social media etc.>