Two Solutions for Reducing Missed Patient Appointments
How does your practice handle missed patient appointments? Many practices charge patients for no-shows or overbook schedules to fill in the anticipated gaps, but there’s plenty of evidence that those tactics on their own are failing to have the desired impact. Last year, for example, Modern Healthcare noted that of the 2.8 million appointments scheduled by one Utah medical group, there were nearly 132,000 missed patient appointments.
Effectively addressing no-shows is critical in today’s competitive healthcare landscape. Not only does reducing missed appointments generate more revenue, but it also leads to improved patient satisfaction and, by increasing the number of patients who receive needed care, leads to better patient outcomes — two critical considerations for quality, value-based reimbursement.
Why Some ‘Fixes’ for No-Shows Fall Short
Charging patients for missed appointments has both fans and detractors. While it makes sense to hold patients accountable in some way — particularly if they are repeat offenders — instituting a no-show fee policy comes with risks. Some patients may leave a practice over a rigid policy that doesn’t allow for one memory lapse or an unavoidable family or work emergency.
"Research has found that it can take up to 12 positive experiences to overcome the damage of a single negative one."
Even patients who don’t leave over a no-show fee may voice their resentment among their family, friends, online communities and review sites. In the age of healthcare consumerism, this type of negative publicity could cost a practice over time. And the cost of sending out bills for missed appointments — some of which will likely be ignored — only adds the financial shortfall.
Likewise, overbooking can put a practice — and its patients — in a lurch. What happens when everyone shows up? The staff scrambles to keep up, and doctors suffer burnout. Meanwhile patients feel frustrated and rushed, resulting in poor patient experiences. Market research has found that it can take up to 12 positive experiences to overcome the damage of a single negative one, and poor experiences are shared almost twice as much as good ones.
Common Problems that Lead to Missed Patient Appointments
The key to crafting a successful, proactive strategy to reduce no-show rates rests in understanding the reasons patients miss their appointments. Once you’ve identified the reasons, develop a process that addresses them.
Problem: Advanced Scheduling
According to Medical Practice Insider, the primary reason for missed appointments is lead-time prior to an appointment. The article notes, “Statistics reveal that no-shows for same-day appointments are about half the no-show rate for appointments made three weeks in advance.”
Solution: Appointment Software
Use of appointment software that allows for patient-directed scheduling can cut down on no shows in several ways. It paves the way for same day appointments because patients can see openings online and reserve the time immediately, increasing the likelihood that they will show up. This in-the-moment availability will be especially attractive to Millennials, but it will also appeal to patients who fall into the Priority Juggler psychographic segment, who handle many responsibilities and focus on the care of their families. But for patients not looking for a same-day appointment, the ability to make an appointment when they have their entire calendar in front of them — rather than at the doctor’s office when they’re feeling pressured — is convenient and puts the pressure to remember the appointment squarely on their shoulders.
Problem: Reluctance to Address Health Issues
The tendency to ignore medical needs happens for a variety of reasons. Psychographic segmentation reveals that Willful Endurers, for example, who are generally disengaged from health and wellness and focus only on the “here and now,” tend to put off doctor’s appointments unless absolutely necessary. The result? An appointment made weeks ago may no longer be a priority if the symptoms have eased. And while generally proactive, Balance Seekers like to explore their options, which may lead to finding an alternate solution before they make it to their scheduled appointment. Plus, you can’t ignore the fear factor: Some patients have good intentions, but become increasingly anxious about upcoming appointments.
Solution: Automated Appointment Reminders
Using a patient engagement platform like PatientBond, which allows a practice to customize the message and the delivery method to meet the unique preferences of different psychographic segments, allows you to reach out to patients with reminders that resonate. While appointment reminders by phone can be effective, certain patients may prefer text or email communications for appointment alerts. As a result of using PatientBond, a health system focused on care for Medicaid, hispanic and rural patients reduced missed appointments by 22 percent.
More importantly, a platform like PatientBond offers the added benefit of flexible applications to connect with patients for chronic care and disease management, as well as wellness education and health reminders, helping practices develop a stronger relationship with patients — another factor that can aid in reducing missed appointments.