When a patient bails on their appointment, it can be downright costly for a healthcare practice. One study estimates the healthcare industry loses about $150 billion to patient appointment no shows each year — about $200 in co-pays, reimbursements, and overhead for every hour-long time slot that goes unfilled.
To prevent patient no-shows, many practices use tactics that can be unfriendly to patients, including double booking (leading to longer wait times when both patients show up) and charging fees. Patient no-shows are certainly annoying, but practices must be willing to put themselves in the shoes of their patients to understand why they are missing their appointments. By first empathizing with the plight of patients, practices can find better solutions to the problem of patient no-shows and, in the process, better serve their patients.
Here are several reasons why patients might miss an appointment and what you can do to prevent no-shows.
Patients Don’t Have a Ride
Approximately 3.6 million Americans miss appointments each year due to lack of transportation. It could be that your patients are relying on public transportation and a bus route is closed, or there’s a delay on the subway, or perhaps the friend who promised to drive them bailed at the last minute.
Many health systems are now partnering with popular rideshare companies to prevent no-shows. A new Boston-based startup called Circulation allows providers, case managers, or anyone else with a vested interest in getting a patient to their appointment to log onto their platform to request rides. Circulation then finds the best transportation method (ridesharing, taxi, ambulance, whatever), and the provider or payer picks up the cost of the ride.
Patients Think No-Showing Isn’t a Big Deal
Patients have a lot to manage in healthcare nowadays, but they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s entirely possible that most patients have no idea the ramifications missed appointments have on a practice.
Instead of penalizing patients, use a no-show as an opportunity to educate them on the business impact it has on the practice, how it impedes practice growth, and negatively impacts other patients seeking care. Just like you educate patients on the importance of adhering to care plans, it’s equally important to educate them on the importance of adhering to scheduled appointments.
Patients Can’t Get Through on the Phone
Practices shouldn’t assume the worst about patients if they don’t show up for a scheduled appointment. Perhaps a patient needs to cancel at the last minute or wants to reschedule their appointment, but they simply can’t get through on the phone.
Studies have shown that patients prefer online scheduling, the ability to book open appointment slots via the Internet, to scheduling over the phone. It’s similar to booking a restaurant reservation. The upside for practices is, by automating scheduling, they can reduce patient no-shows and also reduce the burden on front office staff. It’s a win-win for everybody.
Patients Forgot About their Appointment
It can be easy to forget a doctor’s appointment, especially if that appointment is scheduled weeks or months in advance. That makes appointment reminders a crucial capability to grow your practice.
How do you remind patients they have an appointment with your practice? If it’s snail mail, then you’re all but asking for them to forget their appointment and not show up. One study suggests that postcard or other snail mail reminders have little impact on reducing no-shows.
Email reminders, on the other hand, have shown to reduce no-shows by as much as 36 percent. In other words, practices need strategies to remind patients about their appointments using modern techniques like email or even text messages. Fortunately, practices can automate reminders via text or email without adding additional work.
Patients Don’t Have the Money
With out-of-pocket expenses climbing thanks to high-deductible health plans, many patients are put in the awkward position of choosing between getting care they need and other financial responsibilities.
Helping patients understand their insurance plans, how much they will owe for certain services, and which care they need versus which care they can delay will go a long way to earning deeper trust with patients. Knowing patients have an ally in their corner and knowing they can’t forgo certain types of care will help them feel more obligated to take appointments more seriously.
There are no silver-bullet methods for eliminating no-shows. However, if you empathize with your patients, leverage technology, and put processes into place, you can decrease them.
Want more information like this? Check out “4 Ways to Empower Patients at Your Healthcare Practice.”