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8 Ways to Avoid Cancelled Appointments

medical practice appointment calendar

Your staff is ready for the day. But where’s your first patient? Uh-oh. Looks like a no-show.

Getting patients to make and keep appointments can be a big challenge for any practice. Aside from the hassle and frustration, patient no-shows cost your practice money. Some estimates put the cost of no-shows as high as $150,000 per year.

Although it’s not possible to eliminate every cancellation, you can reduce no-shows by following a few key strategies.

Here are 8 ways you can help patients keep their commitments:

1.Reduce wait times

Most patients see long wait times as a sign of disrespect, particularly if they have to wait each time they come. Over time, patients may think your practice is in the habit of over-scheduling patients–so they might believe it won’t make a difference if they miss their appointment.

Instead, take a hard look at your current scheduling protocols and adjust them as needed. This will help foster better relationships with your patients by showing that you value their time, either on the phone or in the lobby.

2. Create a fill list

Maintain a list of patients who want an earlier appointment or can come in on short notice. When other patients cancel within a day or two of their appointments, those on the fill list may be able to take the empty slots.

One office manager tells a story of a dental hygienist who knew the business owner next door. This business owner had confessed that he never had time in his schedule for a dental appointment. So, when a scheduled appointment fell through, the hygienist ran next door to see if her friend was free. He was, and he quickly replaced the canceled patient.

3. Track no-shows 

Resist the temptation to wait for no-shows to call back. Instead, follow up on every missed or canceled appointment. Whenever possible, try to reschedule within the next business day.

The fact is, we’re all human. Sometimes, people really do forget. However, as you ask why patients missed their appointments, track their name and document their reasons. Later, you’ll be able to spot general trends in no-shows and be proactive in fixing the problem.

4. Strategize the timeframe

Start by asking patients what time works best for them, instead of assigning them the first available slot. A study from the University of Missouri suggests that this strategy can increase the probability of patients showing up by a third. 

Give patients a generous estimate of how long their appointment will take, and ask them to call the office in advance if they can’t keep the appointment. Mention that their call makes it possible for another patient to see the doctor in their place.

Consider expanding your office hours one day a week (morning or evening). This helps accommodate those who have a hard time getting off work, especially because these patients are among the most likely to be no-shows.

5. Don’t schedule too far in advance

Do you know what you’ll be doing at 3:00 PM three months from now? Chances are, your patients don’t know their plans either. When setting appointments, the longer the time lapse, the greater chance that the appointment may not work. Try to schedule an appointment for as soon as possible.

Of course, it’s common to schedule regular check-ups six months in advance. But when you do, expect a greater need for the patient to reschedule. Send a reminder one or two weeks before the appointment so patients can reassess their calendar and choose a different time if necessary.

6. Send multiple appointment reminders

Thanks to automated reminder systems, sending appointment reminders is a snap. Each practice likes to do it differently, some sending multiple reminders during the month, week, or the day before the appointment.

Additionally, many practices call, text, or email patients one or two days prior to their appointments. Some also send a text message a few hours before the appointment. These extra reminders can go a long way toward helping busy patients keep their commitments.

Whenever you interact with a patient, keep track of new cell phone numbers and email addresses so that your data is always up-to-date. Send appointment reminders through each medium to improve your outreach and let patients respond in a way that is convenient for them. Take note of their preferred contact method.

7. Develop strong relationships with patients

When it comes to no-shows, remember: it’s easy to cancel on someone you don’t know but harder to cancel plans with a friend.

To develop a stronger relationship with your patients, talk with them about the value of their visit and share what they can expect from their appointment. Then, follow up with patients after they leave the office to answer any questions about their care.

It stands to reason that when patients understand the importance of their visit, they are less likely to blow off their next appointment.

One more thing. Your practice also sees a lot of great patients who always show up when scheduled. Don’t forget to show your appreciation! Your gratitude will help these patients continue coming on time and on schedule.

While you’re at it, always thank patients who cancel well in advance of their appointment. A little goodwill can go a long way.

8. Create a no-show policy

Is your no-show policy visible? If not–or if you don’t have a firm policy already in place–it’s time to create one.

Ideally, your no-show policy will include the timeframe for canceling an appointment (usually 24 or 48 hours in advance). Post the policy in the lobby, on your website, on your Facebook page, and in your appointment reminders. If you include a no-show fee, make sure you give ample warning before the fee kicks in. Be fair in what you charge, otherwise, you may just send patients to the closest competitor.

When your patients receive high-quality care on a regular basis, they’ll be happy with the results. And guess what? Happy patients tell their friends and family, which–in turn –helps you grow your practice.

No matter the methods you use to help patients keep their commitments, in time you can expect real dividends that save your practice money, build patient relationships, and strengthen your practice.

doctor visits with a patient

 

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