Editor’s Note: Communications, such as appointment reminders, are often guided by HIPAA privacy rules, organizational policies and other regulations. Ideas presented in our Guest Post may vary in application according to the professional situation and circumstances. More information about Health Information Privacy under HIPAA is available at the US Department of Health & Human Services Official Website.
Guest Post by Ben Bakhshi
Patient no-shows are much more than an annoying inconvenience to a medical office. Estimates say a missed appointment or two each day can add up to $20,000 - $180,000 lost in productivity annually. Figure more for multiple providers and specialties. [American Medical Association]
Here are a few tips to reduce no-shows, protect revenue, and improve client retention and satisfaction.
A phrase coined by an Army hospital warns that, “An appointment missed by you, is an appointment missed by two.” Missed appointments are gaps left by one forgetful patient that could have been filled by a more responsible patient. By sending appointment reminders you are able to plug the financial drain, increase your business’ revenue, and make your business run more streamlined.
Most missed appointments are due to forgetfulness. Other common reasons for no-shows include difficulty getting away from work, childcare, transportation and cost. Plus, there are patients who felt better and those patients too ill to keep their appointment. [Ann Fam Med v.2(6); Nov 2004 PMC1466756]
But regardless of the reason, any missed appointment is problematic and providing a reminder can have a surprising effect on your bottom line. It’s best to be proactive.
You’ll want to check, but appointment reminders, being important to a patient’s continuing care, are generally allowable under most guidance. Email reminders, in a related Journal of Healthcare Administration study, improved patient no-shows significantly.
Many practices focus their marketing on attracting new patients, but they may take existing patients for granted. By keeping your existing patients happy, healthy and engaged, you decrease your churn rate, increase the likelihood of future services and patient referrals.
Legendary marketer, Seth Godin advises, “Do you have a story to tell that person? An engagement or a benefit to offer them? Figure out the people part and the technology gets a whole lot simpler.”
The story that you are telling your patients is: “I am your healthcare provider, I want to keep you healthy, here is how…” If you keep your messaging honest and consistent, your patients will enjoy appropriate and timely messages. If you have not done so recently, you can review the official marketing information page here.
Available Tools in Your Toolbox
Before going forward, you need to decide what method of communicating you will use. You can manually call, email or text, but staff time might be better used for tasks that cannot be automated. On the plus side, there are tools out there like ZocDoc, Practice Fusion, or Coordinato (my company), which can facilitate the messaging process.
If you find that one piece of software does not provide all of the features that you want, don’t be shy about sending an email customer support and ask them to include a feature or two for you. Some software has “hidden” capabilities, and these days, many companies can implement new customer-inspired features in a matter of days when it will benefit other users as well.
A simple and inexpensive reminder easily overcomes appointment “forgetfulness.” And using technology to engage and retain existing patients is cost-efficient…and simply good business. What’s more, it is five to seven times more costly to acquire a new patient/customer than it is to retain an existing one.
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Ben Bakhshi is founder of Coordinato, an online customer service software that facilitates marketing messages and appointment reminders via email, telephone and text message. Coordinato helps businesses apply current technology to help improve client retention and client satisfaction.