By Jim Higgins, Solutionreach
Every time a patient fails to show up for their appointment, the healthcare practice is impacted. Very few things are as maddening as a patient who cancels their appointment at the last moment or just doesn’t show up at all. Everything has been prepped, the files were reviewed, insurance may have been authorized, staff scheduling has taken place, and then suddenly—there is no patient there to be seen. It wastes the time and effort of every staff member involved.
It also impacts those patients who DO show up—they experience increased wait times and decreased accessibility. Unfortunately, the high number of no-shows and cancellations for healthcare organizations has reached nearly epidemic levels. If unsure what your rate is, your organization can calculate your no-show rate to determine this. But, experts estimate that no-show rates hover between 23 and 34 percent for most healthcare organizations, with rates hitting as high as 50 percent in certain specialties.
Americans are busier than ever before—and the strain is showing. A recent study found that the average person forgets four important facts, items, or events every single day. So it comes as no surprise that the top reason patients say they miss a doctor’s appointment—the result of 36 percent of all no-shows according to one study—is simply “I forgot.” Fortunately, taking advantage of technology such as automated reminders can greatly reduce that number. Reaching out regularly by email, text, phone call, or even social media is a great way to help get that upcoming reminder back to the forefront of a patients’ memory.
Research shows that using technology to remind patients of appointments actually works. According to one study, 23 percent of patients who didn’t get a reminder missed their appointments. Additionally, the number of no-shows fell to 17 percent when patients were sent an automated appointment reminder.
Automated reminders are simple to use and allow you to remind patients in advance of their appointment. Automating your reminders (taking out the human error element) helps ensure your patients will be reminded about their appointment in plenty of time to make needed accommodations, or at least to give adequate notice so you can fill the slot.
And while just the act of implementing an automated reminder system will greatly improve your no-show rate, there are ways to optimize those reminders even further. This is through the use of an effective reminder strategy.
Making Reminders Work For You
The frequency and timing of your appointment reminders can have a big impact on their effectiveness. But, until now, healthcare organizations have simply had to use their best guess to determine when and how often reminders should be sent. To address this gap, analysts looked at 20 million appointment reminders to determine the best frequency and cadence when it comes to appointment reminders to get the best response.
What came from that analysis is being called the 3-3-3 method. This approach can be used as a baseline for an organization’s appointment reminder strategy and then adjusted to meet the unique needs of each individual organization.
3—Send the first reminder three WEEKS before the appointment. The appointment reminder that analysts found had the overwhelmingly highest confirmation rate (the percentage of patients who actively respond to confirm their attendance) is the message sent three weeks before the appointment. Appointments were confirmed at a 126 percent higher rate than when no automated reminders are sent. This was more effective than the daily, hourly, or initial at-scheduling messages.
3—The next reminder should come three DAYS prior to the appointment. A few days (three, to be exact!) before the appointment, have your automated system send another reminder. When combined with the three-week message, this three-day touchpoint adds in an additional 26 percent to the confirmation rate.
3—Finally, send a last-minute reminder three HOURS before the patient is due in the office. Why should you add this third touchpoint? The research shows that it doesn’t really impact the confirmation rates. This is because patients are most likely to just take note of the message and show up. So, while you may not hear back from a patient after sending this message like you may with the other reminders, it gives patients the heads-up they need to get ready. They can check traffic, make sure they’ve got childcare covered, or anything else they need to get ready.
To make your appointment reminders work best for you, leverage the rule of three and send appointment reminders three weeks, three days, and three hours before an appointment. As you do so, you will be able to fight those dreaded no-shows, ultimately boosting productivity, engagement, and overall revenue.
About The Author
Jim Higgins is the founder & CEO of Solutionreach. You can follow him on Twitter: @higgs77.