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Top strategies to help healthcare practices reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations

Patient no-shows and late cancellations can have a negative impact on both practice revenue and patient health. These simple strategies help reduce your financial and operational risk.

Each year, the healthcare industry leaves about $150 billion on the table due to patient appointment cancellations and no-shows. At an estimated loss of about $200 a visit, independent practices can’t thrive without a strategy designed to deal with these frustrating situations.

Aside from the day-of operational challenges caused by late cancellations and no-shows, practices that don’t tackle these issues with a head-on strategy risk losing patients in the long run.

An athenahealth study indicates that patients who missed just one appointment were 70 percent more likely not to return within 18 months. Sadly, patients with chronic conditions who need regular primary care attention have even higher attrition rates when they miss a single appointment.

For the well-being of your patients, keeping them on schedule and attending their appointments can lead to better health management and adherence, positive outcomes, and improved long-term health.

For your business, beyond the revenue risk of no-shows, maintaining an effective patient-provider relationship is difficult when you’re not seeing your patients regularly, and as planned. With healthcare competition on the rise, patient retention is critical for continued practice growth.

Reduce healthcare practice attrition and improve profitability with a comprehensive no-show strategy

There are a variety of reasons patients don’t show for appointments or need to cancel at the last minute — but you should still have a plan to prevent it as much as possible. Life (and patients) can be unpredictable, but these proven strategies can help busy healthcare practices maximize their operations by reducing no-shows and last-minute cancellations.

Look for no-show patterns and address them.

Some practices notice a higher level of no-shows the day after a holiday. Others have noticed older patients who care for grandchildren may be less likely to keep afternoon appointments. Some academic centers are using electronic medical record data to predict no-shows before they occur.

Regardless of how you look at your data, it’s important to identify your no-show offenders and understand why they skip or miss appointments. Is it a social determinant, such as lack of access to transportation? Worries about exposure to COVID-19, flu, or other seasonal illnesses? Are they frustrated by long wait times experienced in earlier visits? Maybe they’ve just forgotten an appointment that was scheduled months earlier.

Digging deeper into the potential reasons behind your no-shows can provide valuable insight to drive your improvement strategies. Once you know the culprit(s), ensure your strategy takes those factors into consideration.

Prioritize pre-appointment communication with patients.

Sending automated patient appointment reminders to confirm appointments, using a proven cadence model (three days prior, day before, and day of) can help reduce no-shows. Determine your patients’ preferred method of notification — PatientPop survey data shows an overwhelming patient demand for text messaging, preferred by 66.8 percent of patients — and use that information to customize a reminder deployment strategy.

In the COVID-19 era, be sure to clearly communicate your safety protocols when appointments are scheduled, and set expectations for the patient’s visit. With nearly 1 in 4 patients feeling hesitant about, or unsafe, visiting your office, any communication to calm nerves or dispel disinformation is valuable. Finally, ask patients to register digitally and complete intake forms online, ahead of time.

These simple tactics ensure your patients are aware of their appointment, and are reassured you’ll be ready for them when they arrive.

Develop a plan for handling repeat patient no-shows.

There will always be patients who have a history of late cancellations and no-shows, and need a higher level of intervention. You can help reduce the overall impact of habitual no-shows by having a plan in place to specifically address them. Try supplementing your automated reminders with a personal phone call, or implement a policy that requires patients with a no-show history to prepay prior to their appointment. Many practices also have policies that require patients to pay a portion of their visit fees if they cancel less than 24 or 48 hours prior to an appointment.

Regardless of how you tackle no-shows and late cancellations at your healthcare practice, start with even one strategy you don’t currently apply. Any improvement you make has the potential to increase your bottom line while reminding patients that you are committed to keeping their health on track with helpful information and regular appointments.

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