How to Keep Patients From Cancelling Appointments?
QueueDr has spent more time thinking about cancelled appointments than anyone. We’ve literally written the book on patient cancellations which you can read here. Today we will condense our research on over 1 million appointments to answer two questions. First, how to keep patients from cancelling appointments. Second, how to reduce patient no-shows. Read all the way to the bottom for the twist ending.
Improve Patient Access
The number one way to reduce patient cancellations is to shorten your wait time. The earlier a patient can get an appointment, the less likely they are to cancel. Many posts about reducing patient cancellations, will throw out suggestions without data, we seek to avoid that. Athenahealth did a comprehensive study of 4 million appointments. They sought to understand why patients, specifically new patients, cancelled their appointments. The number one reason was long patient wait times. For example, a new patient scheduled 3-7 days in the future had a 15% chance of never showing up for their doctor’s appointment!
RECOMMENDED – The Definitive Guide to Patient Access
Waitlist Management Software to Fill Patient Cancellations
One of the most effective ways to shorten patient wait time is waitlist management software. The best waitlist management software can help your front office staff shorten patient wait time by filling last minute cancellations. Specifically, autonomous waitlist management software achieves this goal without any work from your front office staff. This is a rare instance where providers, patients, and staff win! If you are curious, we’ve written a primer on waitlist management software that we recommend you read later.
RECOMMENDED – The Definitive Guide to Patient Waitlists
Automated Appointment Reminders
The number one way, according to most blogs, to ensure that your patients keep their appointments, is patient appointment reminders. The problem is that not all appointment reminders are created equal. There are three vital characteristics of effective medical appointment reminders.
1) Text Message Appointment Reminders
First, the patient appointment reminders must have text messages. 97% of smartphone users text every day! Yes, even elder patients. Particularly with the rise of robocalls (we got 46 BILLION in 2018), patients are very hesitant to pick up a phone call from a number they don’t recognize. For those worried about legal ramifications, AMA has provided helpful guidance.
2) Automated Appointment Reminders
Second, effective medical appointment reminders must be fully automated. It is no longer acceptable to require front office staff to upload or download CSV files into the EHR. In fact, patient appointment reminders should be using AI, which QueueDr does. Appointment reminders are one of the main areas that Dr. Steven Lin, from Stanford Medical Center, believes will be transformed by AI.
We have a customer who believed they had a patient no-show problem. However, it turned they had an automated appointment reminder problem. Patients were cancelling appointments via the reminders. Front office staff were then required to go into the practice management solution and cancel those appointments manually. The front office staff was extremely busy. They often didn’t get to this task until much later in the day. As a result, they marked many patients as no-shows even though they had cancelled beforehand creating an artificially high patient no-show rate!
3) Actionable Appointment Reminders
Thirdly, effective patient appointment reminders must be actionable. This means that when a patient cancels an appointment from the reminder, it cancels in the practice management solution. In addition, if a patient confirms an appointment, the tool must confirm the appointment in the practice management solution.
Good Patient Customer Service
Want to reduce patient cancellations? Never forget that a patient is also a consumer. Treat them well. Specifically, spend lots of time hiring and training your front office staff. Pay them well, they are the front line to the entire patient experience. You are looking for front office staff that do well under pressure, have a positive attitude, and are organized.
Shorter Phone Queues
Another tip on how to keep patients from cancelling appointments is to have shorter phone queues. Keona Health has a great post on the benefits of smarter phone triage for an office. By having shorter phone queues, you create a better patient experience, but also can reduce patient no-show rates. That’s our next topic.
How to Reduce Patient No-Shows
Reducing no-shows is not dissimilar from reducing patient cancellations in general. The rules above apply. Improve patient access, have actionable appointment reminders, and good customer service. FierceHealthcare featured a great article covering 4 proven ways to reduce patient no-shows. We won’t repeat ourselves, but in addition to better patient access and actionable appointment reminders there are two other important factors worth mentioning.
RELATED – The Definitive Guide to Patient No-Shows
1) Ban Bad Patients
The NIH did a study of 7,000 patients to identify key drivers of patient no-shows. They found that 2% of the patients accounted for 17% of the patient no-shows. By removing those patients, the practice no-show rate dropped 50%! We recommend that patients be allowed to no-show three times before being banned with steps at each no-show to make them aware of the policy.
2) Twist Ending – Encourage Patient Cancellations
I bet you didn’t see this coming! In a post on how to keep patients from cancelling appointments, we encourage you to have patients cancel appointments. Many patients no-show because they do not need the appointment. By encouraging patients to cancel beforehand, you give your front office staff or automated waitlist management software the time to fill that cancelled appointment.
Conclusion: How To Keep Patients From Cancelling Appointments
Ensuring patients keep their appointments is vital for a successful medical practice regardless of size. If you do not have patients, you can’t pay the bills. Improving patient access is the first place to start for decreasing your patient cancellation rate and reducing your patient no-show rate. By utilizing the right technology and having a high level of customer service you can achieve a good patient cancellation rate.