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5 ideas to reduce no-shows & cancellations at your healthcare practice

See how you can grow your practice by reducing no-shows and cancellations.

Treating patients is your passion, but to do that, you need them to show up to scheduled appointments. No-shows and cancellations are frustrating — and their price adds up fast. Missed appointments cost the U.S. healthcare system $150 billion per year, and cost you an average of $200 per unused time slot, according to healthcare technology company SCI Solutions.

Read on to learn how to grow your practice by improving patient attendance.

1. Implement a fee policy

Charging a fee for consultations, cancellations, and no-shows increases the chance of patients taking their appointment seriously. If they know there’s a fee at stake, they’re more likely to show up or at least cancel their appointment with plenty of time for you to fill their slot.

According to the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 11.3.2, you should clearly notify patients in advance of any fees they’ll be charged for missed appointments or failing to cancel an appointment within a pre-specified time period. Prominently display your published policy in your office and on your website, so patients aren’t caught by surprise.

Read: 5 reasons patients no-show for healthcare appointments

2. Double book appointments

Booking two patients into the same time slot is an insurance policy of sorts. It’s unlikely both won’t show up, so this practically guarantees you won’t be stuck with an unused times slot.

Just be careful with this practice, because it could cause patients to spend an inordinate amount of time in your waiting room. Long waits have caused 30 percent of people to walk out of an appointment — and one in five to change doctors — according to digital health platform Vitals. You don’t want patient retention to take a hit, so keep a close eye on average wait times.

Related: 6 ways to ensure your patients love your waiting room

3. Offer group appointments

Some types of patient appointments require a certain level of privacy, but others do not. Group appointments allow you to spend more time with patients, while essentially eliminating the chance of having a time slot that produces zero revenue.

For example, the Cleveland Clinic offers more than 200 different shared medical appointments. During this time, 10 to 15 patients are seen together for 90 minutes, compared with 15 to 30 minutes for an individual appointment, according to the medical center’s website.

In addition to reducing no-shows and cancellations, group appointments can help grow your practice, because you’re able to see more patients. This format can also increase patient retention, as people are able to learn from one another, while getting more face time with you.

4. Send appointment reminders

Some patients diligently write appointments on their calendar as soon as they make them, but everyone isn’t this organized. Many people have the best of intentions, but accidentally miss appointments due to genuine forgetfulness.

In 2017, the Medical Group Management Association — a healthcare industry nonprofit committed to creating medical practices that provide outstanding patient care — surveyed patients who had missed at least one medical appointment in the past 12 months. The majority (52.4 percent) forgot to attend or cancel the appointment, followed by 28.6 percent who incorrectly noted the time, and 23.8 percent who cited other issues (e.g. traffic, work, and other conflicts).

Sending strategically timed appointment confirmations and reminders is an easy way to decrease no-shows and cancellations. You can even automate this process, allowing your staff to review all text confirmations in a matter of minutes.

5. Offer discounted prepaid appointments

Patients are much more likely to keep an appointment they’ve already paid for. Not only does this guarantee you won’t lose money from a no-show or a late cancellation, it also increases the chance you’ll get to treat the person.

Without an incentive, most patients probably won’t be too eager to pay upfront, so offer a discount. The ability to save money will entice some of your budget-savvy patients to prepay. Consider giving it a try, as this practice is becoming increasingly common in both hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Reducing no-shows and cancellations will increase patient retention and ultimately help grow your practice. Treating a full patient load each day allows your business to remain profitable, while ensuring you’re able to help as many patients as possible.

For more tips related to this topic, see the blog post “How to automate appointment reminders and routine practice tasks.”

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