How to Reduce Patient No-Shows & Appointment Cancellations

How to Reduce Patient No-Shows & Appointment Cancellations

A high rate of patient no-shows and appointment cancellations is detrimental to your patients’ health and your healthcare practice’s return on investment. Missing appointments mean that your patients are missing out on important treatment and checkups, and it can be harmful to you if they are selecting other providers for their care. Also, missed appointments can negatively impact the care experience for waitlisted patients and cause unnecessary strain on your staff.

However, patient no-shows and appointment cancellations are controllable once you figure out why your healthcare practice has them in the first place, and by getting to the bottom of this problem, you’ll have the necessary insights to bring more patients through your office’s door.

Thankfully, there are automated tools that you can adapt to engage patients better and prevent revenue loss from no-shows and cancellations. Keep reading to learn more.

What are Patient No-shows and Appointment Cancellations?

What are Patient No-shows and Appointment Cancellations?

Ideally, you expect your patients to notify your practice staff if they won’t be able to make it to a scheduled appointment. Still, those who fail to visit your office as arranged without timely notification are patient no-shows. In contrast, a cancellation is when a patient informs your staff that they’ll be canceling their appointment without rescheduling it for another time.

Both cancellations and no-shows can deny your healthcare business multiple hard-earned revenue opportunities, as we’ll talk about below.

What is the Cost of Patient No-shows and Canceled Appointments?

Missed medical appointments can cause losses of up to $150 billion in the US healthcare system annually. One of the saddest things about this reality is that it poses serious health implications for patients and staff, too.

Here are some common detrimental effects of patient no-shows and appointment cancellations:

  • On average, a doctor loses about $200 each time a patient fails to show up to a scheduled appointment
  • When anyone misses a healthcare appointment, they might miss an opportunity to detect or treat a condition early enough, which can expose them to serious health risks
  • If left unchecked, patient cancellations and no-shows can interrupt existing appointment schedules, creating a strain on your staff’s mental health
  • Inefficient scheduling can inhibit the care experience for other patients

Why Do Cancellations and No-shows Occur?

Healthcare practices can experience cancellations and no-shows for a broad range of reasons. Some of the areas you should look into to understand why include:

  • Patient demographics
  • Timing of appointment
  • Your specialty
  • How busy is your practice on a daily basis (patient volume)
  • Location

Common reasons for patients missing their medical appointments with or without prior notification include:

  • Appointment lead times: Data from Athena Health suggests that prospective patients are more likely to cancel their first-time appointment if it’s scheduled too far out. It’s no surprise that ob-gyn providers, who have longer first-time appointment lead times than many other specialists (23 days), experience more cancellations per appointment (25%).
  • Forgetfulness: Not everyone remembers their upcoming medical appointment in time. According to research, this is the main reason for patient no-shows. Keep in mind that if your patient forgets their appointment, they won’t remember to contact you about canceling it either.
  • Other personal commitments: A patient may be unable to visit your clinic as agreed if the appointment coincides with other commitments and priorities, such as work.
  • Lack of transportation: Unexpected public transport delays can cause some patients to cancel their healthcare appointment at the last minute. Such cancellations can also occur due to the sudden unavailability of a family member expected to help a patient that cannot drive themselves.
  • Financial or insurance concerns: A patient may develop cold feet over potential treatment costs or coverage issues that weren’t properly addressed before scheduling their medical appointment. These concerns can contribute to no-shows in healthcare.

Although you want to get as many patients as possible through the door, the above factors can be inhibitive. You can still keep your practice’s no-shows and cancellation rates down with our effective patient engagement strategies.

Strategies to Reduce Patient Cancellations and No-shows for Providers

The best way to handle patient cancellations is to try to fill as many empty slots as possible upon notification. You should have a rescheduling plan in place for this that entails reaching out to waitlisted patients to see if they can visit sooner.

Because moving schedules around is an after-the-fact solution, you should also adopt proactive techniques to minimize patient cancellations and no-shows for your clinic.

1. Incorporate Automated Patient Appointment Reminders

If forgetfulness is the biggest contributor to no-shows, then reminding patients of their appointment date and time is its natural solution. Automating the process allows you to send out multiple appointment reminders to patients in advance, which can reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations. You can send these reminders by phone calls, text messages, or email.

With the GMR Web Team appointment reminder feature, you can easily keep your patients on track through multiple channels like email and SMS. Integrating the system with your front desk lets staff quickly view all confirmed appointments daily. This helps to optimize scheduling and slot utilization for your healthcare practice.

2. Let Patients Change Appointments Online

If you want to keep your calendar full, you should always allow patients to cancel or change their appointments online. This is a simple and effective way to reduce missed medical appointments.

It works because patients don’t have to remember to call your office during operating hours to reschedule or cancel. Instead, they can conveniently make any appointment changes via their smartphone or laptop at any time.

3. Provide 2-Way SMS Communication Options with Appointment Reminders

Adding a 2-way SMS texting option in your automated appointment reminder system can substantially reduce no-shows for your practice. GMR Web Team’s appointment reminder tool provides this capability to facilitate sending reminders to patients as well as rescheduling or confirming appointments via text in real time.

It makes the process more conversational to keep both the patient and your staff on the same page regarding the status of their upcoming appointment. Assume the patient wishes to reschedule after receiving an automated reminder on their phone.

With our 2-way SMS feature, you can confirm the requested change or text the patient back for more information. You may also use it proactively to send a rescheduling invitation to patients who missed an appointment, with an option for them to text back.

4. Clearly Communicate with Patients

Since about 45% of appointment cancellations are follow-ups, clearly communicating with patients can eliminate confusion and apathy toward follow-up care, thus reducing missed appointments. Also, the good news is that these are patients you can encourage to come back when you see them in your office.

When scheduling their next follow-up visit, communicate to them the importance of returning. Maybe the patient is putting their health at risk by not showing up on time, but they might not immediately grasp the gravity of that without some timely persuasion.

So, make it your responsibility to educate them on things like their condition, symptoms, procedures, and the urgency of the proposed treatment/assessment.

5. Provide Virtual Care Patient Appointments

Telemedicine can help reduce patient no-shows and cancellations in healthcare, especially so for individuals who only cancel because they can’t be seen in person. Some may face access barriers like location, transport, or personal commitments like work or childcare.

With telemedicine, you can offer them an alternative way to experience care without having to leave their home or office. Virtual care options can minimize the need to cancel for some of them.

6. Clearly Communicate Your Cancellation Policy!

While you can’t reasonably expect to have zero cancellations and no-shows during the year, you also don’t want them to become a habit for any of your patients. You need a written cancellation policy in place and signed by all patients to keep the rates down.

In the policy document, make the patient see how missing an appointment could end up hurting their own health and inconveniencing fellow patients that are also seeking treatment. You should also ask them to notify you of any planned cancellations in a reasonable time so you can prepare to move other patients into the newly available slots.

Don’t forget to track and keep a record of regular no-shows and cancellations. Maybe some of these patients experience access barriers that you can help address with simple solutions.

Reach out to them and learn more about their situation. Getting some of them to come back may not be as hard as it may initially seem!

7. Make Follow-up Calls on Patient Appointments!

Missing an appointment with or without prior notification can be embarrassing for most patients. This is why you should be courteous and friendly during follow-up calls with patients to encourage them to return.

For no-shows, call the patient about 20 minutes into their appointment time and kindly remind them that somebody’s waiting to see them. Let them know they can reschedule if they can’t make it in time.

If the patient canceled, you can follow up with an offer to reschedule. Make sure to remind them of the importance of showing up for their next appointment.

Reducing Patient No-shows and Appointment Cancellations: Key Takeaways

Patient no-shows and appointment cancellations occur for various avoidable or unavoidable reasons. Your practice can reduce them by investing in patient engagement technology with automated appointment reminder functionality. Automations enable you to proactively get more booked patients to visit your office with minimal interruptions to day-to-day schedules.

By automating these tasks, your practice can significantly reduce revenue losses from no-shows and appointment cancellations while boosting patient treatment outcomes.

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