No-shows are the bane of the healthcare industry, causing all manner of financial costs and workflow impediments. There are lots of reasons why patients fail to show up at the scheduled time for their appointments, and not all of them are susceptible to influence. For instance, if your patient’s child gets sick the morning of their own appointment.
But the good news is that some of the major factors that cause missed appointments can be affected by the way you communicate with your patients. In this blog post, we’ll look at one of the most important reasons for no-shows: patient confusion. We’ll break down some of the components of this confusion and look at why patients who feel uncertain about their appointment might not come. Lastly, we’ll analyze how you can use automated appointment reminders to mostly eliminate that kind of confusion.
I’m using the word “confusion” to point to a small group of related issues. Let’s look at them one by one. As you’ll see in more detail below, quick reminders customized by you and sent by Reminderly can effectively remove many of the common causes of patient confusion.
For a patient to be uncertain about the reason for their upcoming appointment might seem silly, but it happens all the time. Perhaps the patient is a young adult whose parent urged them to book the appointment, and they never got totally clear why it’s necessary. Super easy to flake out.
Or maybe your patient’s spouse realized they’re due for a physical and booked it for them. Your patient might have agreed to go without actually registering the reason for the appointment, and as it gets near that uncertainty leads them to feel resistance to taking the time out of their day. If they don’t receive a notification from your office, it’s be easy for them to wonder if they misheard their spouse about the appointment date or time slot. Maybe just skip it and figure it out later.
Many older folks deal with numerous medical and wellness appointments across multiple providers, even within a single week, and they sometimes lose track of which appointment is with whom and for what. If they’re not sure of the nature of their upcoming appointment with you, overwhelm and frustration can easily follow. A perfect set-up for a no-show.
If you own a healthcare practice, manage one, or work for one, you’ve likely gotten quite used to the ins-and-outs of how the practice runs. The most important thing to remember about patient confusion is that, for many patients, basic familiarity with your medical practice is lacking. Of course, new patients likely haven’t been to your office before and may lack such key details as how long the drive will take, where it is in the building, and if they’re supposed to fill out intake forms in advance or upon arrival. And, even when it’s a patient who’s come to your office before, they might not remember exactly how to get there, where to park, whether or not they need to bring their insurance card, how much it’s likely to cost, and so forth. All of this presents a kind of mental obstacle for your patients. Put into words, it might sound something like:
“I think I need this appointment, but do I really have the time and attention to do it today? And do I have the budget for it this month?”
The confusion, then, is about whether the appointment is truly worth the effort.
Uncertainty about the nature of an appointment or lack of familiarity with your practice is enough to prevent some patients from showing up. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only issues leading to a sense of patient confusion. Another major one is anxiety.
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Many patients feel anxious about how much their appointment will cost, whether or not insurance will cover it, the amount of their copay for this appointment type, and if the appointment will lead to additional costs for more testing or treatment. You can get in front of this source of anxiety by offering your patients different and repeated avenues to inquire about cost—for instance, via a link in a friendly reminder email that leads to a pricing page on your website, or with an invitation in an sms reminder message or phone call script to respond if they have questions or concerns.
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Whether it stems from a realistic assessment of their symptoms, pure hypochondria, or anywhere in between, many patients are anxious about a potential diagnosis from a doctor or other provider. Since there’s all manner of faulty and misleading information on the internet, it’s much better for you to steer your patients toward information and links that you provide—something you can easily do as part of your reminder messages (especially via email).
Lastly, significant numbers of patients report that they feel disrespected by the healthcare system. Even if such experiences happened to them at other medical practices, they could well be feeling anxiety about how they’ll be treated when they come to your office. Something as simple as communicating warmly and clearly in your reminder emails can help set a tone of professionalism and mutual consideration that can boost your patients’ confidence that they’ll be treated well at your office.
So far, we’ve covered several of the factors that lead to patient confusion—uncertainty about the reason for the appointment, lack of familiarity with your office, and anxiety about the appointment. Taken together, these are a major cause of no-shows.
But with the use of automated reminder emails, you can go a long way toward eliminating patient confusion altogether. Fewer no-shows will mean less time that your staff needs to spend chasing down missing patients, as well as a smoother connection between your appointment scheduling process and what you actually see in your office. Let’s look in more detail at why reminders work so well in this regard.
Whether it’s sent as an appointment confirmation email, a text message reminder, or a phone call, even the most basic reminder message will include the nuts and bolts info that your patients need to understand their appointment. As noted above, even the most basic details about the appointments—things that seem obvious to you—are opaque to some of your patients. Although, for privacy reasons, you can’t include any medical details about their appointment, your reminder template needs to include these fundamental components:
Business name and/or provider name.
Date and time of the appointment.
Prompt to confirm.
As we’ll see, there’s much more that can be done with automated appointment reminders, but it’s important to start with the basics. (And, if you find that super simple reminders work well for your clientele, scroll below for samples of what a bare bones message could look like.)
Your appointment reminders should include a prompt for your patients to confirm or cancel their appointment. This results in valuable information for your office and is also an invitation for them to engage with your practice. Most importantly, it works: data shows that 90%+ of confirmed appointments will not turn into no-shows or need rescheduling.
About 85% of people say they want appointment reminders, so it’s no burden for your patients to take a few seconds to click the confirm button on your email, reply C or 1 to your text message, or hit a button on their phone. And reminders are a chance to offer more in-depth engagement for those patients who need it. Your message can say, for example, “Please call our office if you need to reschedule or want to discuss any questions or concerns.”
With Reminderly, your automated reminder templates are totally customizable, so you can steer those patients who need to reschedule toward online rescheduling or toward calling your office, as you prefer. Either way, you’re offering easy engagement for patients who could otherwise end up not communicating at all. Reminderly offers real-time two-way communication, so your patients can immediately respond via email, text, or phone call. These responses will be aggregated for you in a communication hub, so you can follow-up with them right away or whenever you have time.
Using a warm, friendly, or enthusiastic tone in your reminder messages can go a long way toward assuaging the kinds of patient anxiety discussed above in this post. Don’t worry, you don’t have to become an expert writer to succeed at this. There’s nothing too fancy here—something as simple as including the patient name, offering positive reinforcement about coming to that next appointment, and conveying a sense of warmth can help anxious patients feel more relaxed—and therefore more likely to show up. This is good for their health and good for your practice’s bottom line.
Here’s a template to demonstrate how you can use tone and detail to help address common forms of patient confusion and anxiety. And more—note, for instance, how a phrase like “Dr. Schwartz has set aside 45 minutes to see you...” not only personalizes the appointment but also sets a subtle expectation of mutual respect for each other’s time.
Subject line: Your upcoming appointment with <provider name>
Dear <patient name>,
We’re so glad you’ll be coming in soon to see us at <practice name>. We know it’s not easy to fit everything in these days, and we’re so glad you’re taking time to support your health.
<Provider name> has set aside 45 minutes to see you on <day, date> at <time>. If you need to reschedule, call our office at <business phone number> and we’ll find a time that works better for you. We’re also happy to talk through any questions or concerns you have.
Copays are due at the time of the appointment, and our biller is available during our business hours (9:00am to 5:00pm, Monday through Friday) to help with insurance.
Thanks again for choosing <practice name>—we look forward to seeing you.
<Staff member name>
<additional elements such as links to important documents, cancellation policy, directions, social media, etc.>
If the above email template to address patient confusion feels like more than you need for your practice, or like something you want to use for some segments of your patient base but not others, below are two simpler templates to consider as well.
Subject line: Confirm appointment at <practice name>
Please confirm your appointment with <business and/or provider name> on <day, date> at <time>. If you need to cancel or reschedule, or if you have any questions, please call us at <business phone number>.
<Staff member name>
<additional info such as links to cancellation policy, directions, social media, etc.>
Your appointment with <business and/or provider name> is on <day, date> at <time>. Reply "Confirm" "Cancel". If you need to reschedule, please call <office phone number>.