Every healthcare practice experiences missed appointments, whereby an appointment has been booked, but the patient does not show up. The reasons for this range from simple forgetfulness to family emergency. Often new patients may have high rates of missed appointments if they have not been referred to the practice because you haven’t had the opportunity to establish a practitioner-patient relationship. Sometimes the follow-up patient is not satisfied with a previous treatment and decides not to return, but does not want to cause trouble by discussing the situation.
Whatever the reason, missed appointments mean lost revenue for your practice, can delay the outcome of the case because of inconsistent monitoring and treatment, and can keep other patients from seeing you.
Keeping a blocked, well-managed schedule with limited patient waiting times is the first step to reducing missed appointments. Developing a list of patients able to come at short notice and fill in the gaps created by missed appointments is a way to lessen the effects. Try to fit in new patients in a timely manner, as often new patients miss their appointments because they have managed to find another practitioner who could see them sooner. Despite all efforts, some patients will fail to keep their appointments, and a minority will do this repeatedly. One technique for dealing with repeat offenders is to schedule them during a time that has less of an effect to the overall schedule, such as the last appointment of the day or even double book them. A strict cancellation policy with warnings can also be very effective in reducing missed appointments.
The implementation of patient reminders, either through personal calls or via technology solutions, can go a long way to ensuring that patients commit to appointments. Appointments are often made weeks or months in advance, so patients are likely to forget them. Personal calls are more effective than automated SMS messages, but are more labour-intensive, especially on a busy day the office. Automated text and email reminders together can be helpful.
Another way of dealing with missed appointments is to charge a cancellation fee for missed appointments as mentioned earlier. This will give patients the incentive to show up and make up for a part or all of the revenue you have lost. We recommend providing patients with a clear and comprehensive cancellation policy in advance, so that they are aware of the penalty for missed appointments. However, chasing patients for no-show fees can have its own cost in labour and resources, and may simply not be worth it.
The key to a good appointment record is patient engagement. Healthcare practices with the best patient relationships have the lowest numbers of missed appointments because patients who feel their time is respected will in turn respect your time. When scheduling appointments, allow the patient to take part in the process. Listen to what the patient wants and needs. Explain the importance and significance of their treatment plan, allowing them to be accountable. Having a good relationship with the practice will encourage patients to appreciate your time and hence reduce the rate of missed appointments.
Finally you may simply choose to do nothing. A missed appointment does not have to be a loss if you can fit it other important tasks instead. This can mean spending extra time with another patient, clear any built-up patient backlog, making phone calls to patients or doctors, or simply taking a break…