For most businesses, ‘no shows’ are typically around 10–15%, but this can rise as high as 80% in the healthcare industry.
Reducing ‘no shows’ should be a priority for every healthcare provider, as it is proven to positively impact a business in numerous ways, including:
- Higher employee productivity
- Improved operational efficiencies
- Reduced costs
- Increased patient satisfaction and retention
- Overall business growth.
Here we look at ten best practice tips for patient appointment reminders to significantly increase appointment attendance rates and guarantee a better bottom line.
1. Choose the right communication channel
While some patient engagement strategies warrant a phone conversation or email, patient appointment reminders generally do not.
Studies reveal that over 70% of Americans prefer to be contacted by their healthcare provider via text message, especially for things like appointment reminders and pre-visit instructions. The average open rate for texts is 98%, with over 90% of these being opened and read by patients within five minutes of being received.
Text messaging for appointment reminders is clearly an ideal option, not only for patient engagement and satisfaction but also for your healthcare business efficiency.
2. Follow compliance rules and regulations
Whichever method of communication you choose, you’ll need to obtain consent from your patients before sending them emails or texts (including an opt-out option). This can be done during patient intake or when they book an appointment with you and should be kept on record and up-to-date.
Avoid costly penalties (and a damaged reputation) by training all staff on legal rules and regulations for contacting patients and ensuring you’re using HIPAA-compliant tech solutions that effectively secure protected health information.
3. Limit the number of reminders you send
It’s important to always keep the patient experience in mind when deciding how many appointment reminders to send. It is a delicate balance. Too many reminders will overwhelm patients and stress them out or annoy them. Too few, and you risk losing out on the benefits of sending reminders in the first place.
A good rule of thumb is to send a maximum of three reminders per appointment and to space these out evenly over the lead-time. For example, send out the first reminder a week before the appointment, the second one 2-3 days before, and the final one 24 hours before the scheduled visit. (The second reminder will not be necessary if your patients confirm their attendance after the first. See ‘6’.)
4. Send reminders at the right time(s)
Timing is everything when engaging with your patients – and research reveals that there are ideal times to send emails and texts for maximum impact.
For healthcare facilities, sending reminders 24 hours before an appointment is optimal, giving patients ample time to reschedule or cancel. However, avoid sending an appointment reminder late at night or too early in the morning – as these can feel intrusive or disruptive. Around 6 pm – when people generally finish work – is shown to be the best time to guarantee your reminders will be opened, read, and well-received.
5. Make your content count
Your appointment reminders should be brief and precise. You want to give as much relevant information as possible in as few words as possible – particularly if you’re using text messages.
Patients should be able to immediately recognize that it is an appointment reminder and see at a glance when and where their appointment is scheduled. For best practice, only include essential information:
- Who the reminder is from
- The date, time, and location of the appointment
- Options for confirming, rescheduling, or canceling.
If you have additional information or specific instructions you need to convey about the appointment, consider putting these into a separate message or including links, for example, to Google maps with directions to your facility, or to a webpage with details of your facility’s patient arrival and check-in processes.
Note: Never include private patient or health information in your appointment reminders.
6. Request a response
Asking for a quick and easy response to appointment reminders can help healthcare providers in several ways, such as confirming that patients have received and read the reminders they’re sending out.
While it should not be a requirement, it is worth offering as an option to help increase patient engagement and can help give you greater insights into the effectiveness of your reminder service.
7. Personalize your reminder messages
When it comes to appointment reminders, setting the right tone and personalizing your messages is important to increase engagement and demonstrate to your patients that you’re interested in building a long-term relationship with them.
Whichever communication channel you choose to use, be sure to include the patient’s name and the healthcare provider they’ll be seeing. Where possible, customize your emails/texts with personalized fields, which is especially important if using automated reminders that can otherwise feel too impersonal.
8. Use tech tools to automate reminders and replies
Sending out patient appointment reminders can seem a daunting task. Consider automating your appointment reminders to cut down on admin staff time and improve front office efficiency.
With the right tech tools, like PatientTrak, you can easily ensure each patient receives their reminder at the right time and frequency, with personalized content and a call-to-action to respond (confirm, cancel, or reschedule).
Encouraging patients to interact with your healthcare facility via automated reminders will increase patient engagement, improve the patient experience, and help your admin team manage schedules and patient flow more effectively.
9. Implement a patient messaging policy for consistency
You can guarantee consistent and correct use of appointment reminders by implementing a messaging policy for your healthcare facility. This benefits your staff and patients while making it easier to measure and monitor the effectiveness of your reminders over time.
A messaging policy should include:
- How and when to obtain patient permission, and where this will be recorded
- Members of staff who are authorized to send messages (plus any training required)
- Message content – what to include and exclude – plus tone/voice
- Message frequency and timing
- How patient responses will be logged, or what to do when patients don’t respond at all.
10. Regularly review your strategy – and ask for feedback
To know if your patient appointment reminders are working to reduce ‘no shows’ or cancellations, it is important to measure results. This allows you to see where tweaks are needed for further optimization. For example: Are you sending too many texts? / Do email or text reminders work most effectively for your patients?
You may need to test different strategies over time to find the best options for your facility and your patients. Remember to ask for patient feedback too!
Appointment reminders are a great way to reduce ‘no shows’, increase patient engagement, create an optimal patient experience, improve staff productivity and operational efficiencies, and help your overall business growth.
We hope these best practice tips will help you customize your patient appointment reminders to meet the specific needs of your healthcare facility and enjoy all the benefits they can offer.