People fail to show up for appointments for a variety of reasons, including lack of transportation, the desire to avoid long wait times, poor medical literacy, and language barriers. Then there are those who admit to missing an appointment because they forgot they made it in the first place. Yet, no matter the rationalization, people who skip scheduled time with a medical provider not only sacrifice needed care, but also cause their clinician’s practice or facility to lose revenue.
Here, we share several approaches for managers, administrators, and other healthcare leaders to consider when trying to curb this enduring challenge. You may find some to be a better fit than others for your practice, hospital, or clinic, but using a combination of these and other strategies should lead to improvements in patient health and satisfaction as well as fewer no-shows at your organization.
Use multiple appointment reminders
As stated in a Solutionreach post, an excellent and simple method for improving your no-show rate is to inquire about patients’ communication preferences prior to scheduling their appointments. For instance, do they have both a landline and a cell phone? Would they prefer texts or calls? Also, find out if they are open to receiving email messages, and think about incorporating automated reminders into the mix.
Following the above process will give you a way to provide patients with swift and thoughtful reminders. Many patients regard these communications to be helpful in ensuring they remember to show up, which can help increase their loyalty to your organization, too.
Ensure timely access to care
Wait times can have a great impact on satisfaction and cause some patients to skip an appointment, particularly if they’re expected to be somewhere else promptly after their appointment. According to a Software Advice survey of more than 5,000 patients, 97 percent of those who responded said they were frustrated by time spent waiting to see a provider.
Not surprisingly, patients who are punctual expect to be seen on time. When that doesn’t happen, there are things you can do to ease their exasperation, such as offering a sincere apology; telling them how long they can expect to wait; giving them the option to see another provider more quickly, if one is available; and providing a comfortable waiting area with a TV, complimentary snacks and beverages, and/or Wi-Fi. However, the best solution is to eliminate or limit the wait-time issue from the outset.
Take a critical look at time needed for appointments and practical measures for adjustments, if needed. Also, collect patient information when people call to schedule appointments, as opposed to gathering it when they arrive. Moreover, consider adding more physicians or advanced practitioners to your team and/or using locum tenens staffing services to meet the needs of an influx of patients—during flu season, for example—or when members of your permanent staff take vacation, go out on maternity or paternity leave, etc.
Track no-show rates, share findings with providers and staff
Helping those who work at your office or facility become more aware of the number of patients who miss their appointments is prudent. This includes everyone in the process of what to look for and ways to improve the problem. But the data you collect need not be limited to the ratio of people who show up daily, weekly, or monthly compared to those who do not.
Depending on the information you document, you also can establish which strategies work best for your organization, if there are a greater number of no-shows at certain times of the year (and if so, why), and more. Capturing such details and using data to resolve “appointment obstacles” can bring about additional solutions, enhanced communication between staff and patients, and better patient-provider relationships, all of which can strengthen patients’ commitment to your practice or facility.
Arrange for patient transportation to and from appointments
As reported in a recent Uber Newsroom post, 3.6 million Americans miss medical appointments annually due to lack of transportation. While having a reliable way to get to their doctor’s office or healthcare facility impacts many throughout the United States, those who experience the greatest challenges are people residing in rural or underserved areas or who are part of vulnerable populations, particularly those living with a chronic disease.
To address this important issue, on-demand driver services have created platforms to help healthcare providers arrange for non-emergency medical transportation to and from their offices or facilities for patients in need of rides. (Hitch Health recently announced the launch of its partnership with ridesharing firm Lyft, and Uber introduced Uber Health on March 1.) The technology used meets HIPAA standards, and the types of services offered include flexible scheduling; simple billing, reporting, and management; real-time ride status updates; and access for patients who do not own a smartphone.
Provide patient education
A recent Medical Economics article on the topic of reducing no-shows cited a program launched at a New York-based community health center that achieved more than a third decrease in missed appointments compared to the same quarter a year earlier. One of the strategies the program employed is to inform patients of the significance of honoring their appointments and how to appropriately cancel or reschedule if they are unable to make them.
The info provided to patients was reiterated in reminders the day before an appointment, conversations during appointments, no-show follow-up calls, and a system of multi-lingual signs posted at the clinic. In addition, staff members were provided with scripts to ensure they not only knew what to say, but also understood how to phrase it. Reinforcement of the messaging was found to make a meaningful difference. Using this approach at your healthcare organization can help you yield positive results, too.