The Definitive Guide to Patient Appointment Reminders
Every health system and medical practice has patient appointment reminders, but not every reminder system is created equal. Overall, “Appointment attendance reminders were found to either increase the rate of appointment attendance, increase the rate of appointments cancelled ahead of time, or decrease the rate of missed appointments in 48 of the 56 studies (86%)” (source). These numbers are only from studies that analyze text message appointment reminders. Poor performing appointment reminders can cause problems ranging from artificially inflating the patient no-show rate to causing patients to leave the practice in angst. This can be avoided by automated appointment reminders. That’s why it’s a mistake to treat all patient appointment reminders as the same. They are not just a box to be checked, the details are important. Here are the details that matter most.
The Goal of Patient Appointment Reminders
What are medical practices trying to solve with appointment reminders?
Ensure Patients Keep Their Appointments
The number one goal of appointment reminders is to ensure that patients keep their appointments. By reminding patients of their appointments, the medical office takes on the responsibility of patients showing up. It is important to note that patients need to bear more of a burden, particularly in an area with smartphone calendars. However, patients take appointment reminders for granted, expecting a reminder. They don’t add it to your personal calendars. This is particularly true for new patient appointment types. Ensuring new patients keep their appointments can also be achieved through optimized organization of appointment types.
RECOMMENDED – How to Keep Patients from Cancelling Appointments
Reduce Patient No-shows
Closely related to ensuring patients keep their appointments is reducing patient no-shows. Automated appointment reminders can help reduce no-show appointments, however there is a big caveat. Only automated appointment reminders that are actionable appointment reminders will do this. This is a mouthful which we’ll explore in depth below. It means that if front office staff have to act on the appointment reminder reply and enter it into the doctor’s schedule, this may actually increase patient no-shows. Staff may not get to appointment reminders till later in the day so patients who cancelled their appointments will have them incorrectly marked as patient no-shows. This is a problem QueueDr has seen frequently with new customers. It causes health systems to misallocation resources trying to solve a patient no show problem they don’t actually have! With that said, one patient no-show is too many, so we recommend checking out The Definitive Guide to Patient No-Shows.
Open up the Schedule Sooner
The implicit goal of automated and actionable appointment reminders is to make sure that if patients cannot make their appointment, they cancel ahead of time. Dr. JF Steiner refers to the rise in patient cancellations from appointment reminders as the “unexpected outcome”. That way the office can fill the appointment. Or, if the health system is using automated scheduling solutions, like QueueDr, then the patients can automatically cancel, get rescheduled, and the empty slot left over can get automatically filled all at once and without staff work! An open schedule means improved patient access, a top goal for health systems which we’ve covered in depth before.
Reduce Front Office Staff Call Volume
Appointment reminders are not new. In the past, reminders came from front office staff phone calls. Manual reminder calls are very effective in reducing patient no-shows, but are not cost effective. Front office staff are very skilled and should be focusing on more important tasks that cannot be done by appointment reminder software. We find that with automated appointment reminders, front office schedulers have more time to focus on rescheduling provider cancellations, a vital task that requires effective customer support.
Improve Patient Satisfaction
Finally, appointment reminders can improve patient satisfaction. The patient experience is predicated on the right communications at the right time, before the appointment, during the appointment, and after the appointment. That’s why text message reminders are so important!
The Importance of Automated Appointment Reminders
Automated appointment reminders are the most important type of patient appointment reminders. Automated appointment reminders require NO work from your front office staff. There are many solutions that claim to be automated, but some require front office staff to cancel the appointment or confirm the appointment or kick off the reminders.
Automated appointment reminders require no staff work. Quite simply, if there was no front office staff, an automated system should work. All automated appointment reminders cancel the appointment in the practice management system. The best automated systems also reschedule patients’ appointment without any front office staff work. That means finding open slots, offering them to the patient, and then taking the patient’s response and rescheduling their cancelled appointment.
Three other vital features of Patient Appointment Reminders
Besides automated appointment reminders, there are three other vital features for a successful appointment reminder system. If you want the best for your medical practice, you want these.
Actionable Appointment Reminders
Actionable appointment reminders mean that a patient can confirm or cancel their appointment AND that change is immediately reflected in the practice management solution without staff work.
Real-Time Patient Appointments Reminders
Real time appointment reminders make changes in the practice management solution in real-time or near real-time. Some appointment reminders will do daily uploads of patient cancellations or confirmations. This is how patient cancellations turn into patient no-shows. You want real-time appointment reminders because it allows front office staff to act faster. For example, if a patient cancels their appointment for this afternoon, then you want your staff or your automated patient access product to have as much time to fill that cancellation as possible. We dive more into how to handle patient cancellations in our guide here.
Text Message Reminders
You must have text message reminders. Here are three mind blowing stats why. First, 98% of US smartphone users send text messages regularly. Second, “97% of respondents say they open every text message they receive.” Finally, 83% of millennials open texts within 90 seconds of getting them! . In addition, patients don’t have landlines any more. They also tend to not answer any phone calls from numbers they don’t know about given the astronomic rise in robocalls. There were 48 billion robocalls in the US last year!
Text Message Appointment Reminders and Other Communication Methods
Besides text appointment reminders, there are other communication methods available. There are email appointment reminders, patient portal appointment reminders, and phone call appointment reminders. With appointment reminders, you must have enough communication channels to cover 100% of patients. 100% of patients have either text or the ability to receive phone calls. Anything else can be disruptive.
Email Appointment Reminders
Email appointment reminders may sound good because they allow you to gather email addresses that can then be used for marketing. In addition, patients may ask for email reminders. However, there are some draw backs to emails.
Increased Registration Time
Asking a patient for their email address via phone or via registration documents increases registration time. Email addresses aren’t easy words to understand or read. They are susceptible to mishearing and misspelling.
Ending up in Spam
Email appointment reminders often end up in spam since 20% of all commercial emails go to spam.
Therefore, there is a 1 in 5 chance the reminders that patients are now relying on never got through and the blame will be placed on the practice.
Email appointment reminders mean you get emails for marketing! However, using it too much for marketing means patients will unsubscribe and not get the email appointment reminders when they need them!
Low Marginal Value
On top of all that, what % of patients have only email but do not have a cell phone or landline? I would bet the answer is truly 0. More is not better for appointment reminders. You risk angering patients who will then unsubscribe from all of them and then you have to manually call them?
Patient Portal Appointment Reminders
Patient portal appointment reminders require patients to create and sign in to the patient portal to confirm or cancel their appointment. This creates multiple friction points where patients can drop off. The patient must open a message, click a link, remember their password, and then press a button to confirm. It may help increase portal sign-up, but you risk excluding those who don’t want the trouble of having to use the portal. In addition, it requires more work for patients to confirm or cancel appointments since they have to login to the portal! Only 28% of the patients offered access to the patient portal used it in the last year! It’s not because patient portals are poorly built either since 8 in 10 patients who accessed their records said their online medical record was both easy to understand and useful.
Automated text appointment reminders combined with phone reminders are the most frictionless and comprehensive reminder method.
Text Message Appointment Reminder Pricing
Why Pay Per Use Appointment Reminders is a Bad Deal
The original vendors of appointment reminders decided to charge per use (ie per text message or per phone call). It allows them to lock in a guaranteed profit margin and has the benefit of making it easier to sell. The sales pitch is compelling, if you don’t use the reminders, you don’t pay! However, the pay per use model has many problems.
Pay per use discourages you from using the product
Every appointment reminder sent cost your health system money. Thus, you become quite hesitant at using the product because you know it will increase your costs. You must justify the increase in cost with management through a long budgetary process. The idea of adding any appointment reminder for each patient becomes daunting. That’s why most studies and most health system only sent 1 appointment reminder per patient. With the average patient waiting 24 days for appointment, that’s usually 3 weeks between a patient booking an appointment and hearing from you. While you may use a waitlist, something we examine here, you would want to send a reminder more than 1 day before the appointment is booked, but the pricing discourages it! There is a great study of pizza eating that illustrates the point. When charged per slice vs by the whole pie, people eat less pizza!
You get what you pay for
If a company makes more money if you send more reminders, they will work to encourage you to do so. Their product, sales, and marketing teams are driven by that. This isn’t nefarious in anyway. Text message reminders aren’t just valuable for the message. As we’ve already discussed, the reminders must be integrated, actionable, and automated. But the incentive structure for the vendor is not setup to reward those features.
When charged for every little use of a product, each additional use of the product becomes stressful. The stress comes from an uncertain monthly bill and constant recalculation of whether the number of reminders you are sending is enough to reduce patient no-shows. With a flat fee structure, there is no worry of changing monthly prices or usage.
Conclusion: Everyone Builds Patient Appointment Reminders…
It seems that every healthcare scheduling solution ALSO does appointment reminders. It can be overwhelming for a health system or medical practice looking to separate the wheat from the chaff. Always go for best in breed health software. That often comes from solutions that focus on building fewer solutions. Each part of the scheduling solution gets more attention and clearly much be better since they are betting their business on it! For your reminder system you want text message appointment reminders, automated appointment reminders, actionable reminders, and real-time reminders all in one solution. That way your health system will see fewer patent no-shows, boost capacity management, and improve gap management.