The key to reducing no-shows: Empower your patients

Minimize no-shows and turn cancellations into opportunities, by engaging patients and modernizing your appointment-scheduling strategy.
Operations Patient Experience

Originally published on November 12, 2021

Medical practices and health systems everywhere struggle with no-shows. When patients don’t attend their appointments, care suffers—and so do the schedules of clinicians who serve them. 

As many as 30% of patients may not show up for their appointments, creating major gaps in their care. And when providers’ schedules aren’t kept full, the effects can ripple through the entire organization. In the U.S. alone, no-shows cost the healthcare industry billions of dollars each year, between lost revenue and patient attrition. Maintaining consistent cash flow is essential for keeping the lights on, retaining star staff and helping patients take an active role in their care. But when patients don’t show up, it’s a wasted chance for healthcare organizations to generate revenue. 

But there is a solution: Engage patients before and after their visit (or no-show) by modernizing your appointment-scheduling strategy. Positive, consistent patient engagement reduces no-shows and helps healthcare organizations maximize revenue per schedule. Plus, patients are more likely to show for appointments when they feel respected and valued while receiving care. 

Here are five ways you can reduce no-shows at your organization and give patients the digital-first experience they expect.

Empower patients by letting them schedule their own appointments

Many healthcare organizations still schedule all of their patient appointments by phone. Appointment call centers can become overwhelmed in the process, leading to long hold times and a poor overall patient experience. 

Online self-scheduling is a tech-enabled alternative that makes booking an appointment easy and convenient. Many scheduling tools allow patients to add their appointment to their calendar app, helping to ensure they don’t forget about their upcoming visit. Allowing patients to self-schedule not only minimizes no-shows but also reduces the administrative burden on staff, which means patients will spend less time on hold if they do need to call their provider’s office, ultimately improving overall patient satisfaction, according to research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

As healthcare consumerism ramps up, patients are increasingly shopping for care experiences that align with their digital behaviors and preferences. With self-scheduling, provider groups can meet that expectation by giving patients a reason to come back. The results? Fewer no-shows, less churn and higher patient acquisition rates—all of which can help healthcare organizations maximize profitability and keep patients engaged. 

Reduce no-shows through automated appointment reminders

Appointment reminders are critical to reducing no-shows—one study found that when parents of pediatric patients received a text message in addition to a phone call reminder, no-shows dropped by more than 14%. However, manually messaging or calling patients can be a huge burden on staff. When you automate appointment reminders, you ensure that patients receive consistent outreach—and you free up your staff for more complex tasks. 

Additionally, when several reminders are sent before an appointment, patients have multiple opportunities to either confirm or cancel their visit, which can prevent no-shows and last-minute cancellations. Reminding patients about upcoming appointments through text messages or email also helps you meet their growing expectations for tech-enabled healthcare services, with the added benefit of improving your organization’s efficiency. 

Make sure that your outreach explicitly asks patients to confirm or cancel their appointment through a link in the email message or a text reply. Just as appointment self-scheduling is a best practice, so is online appointment “self-canceling.” If a patient must call your office during business hours to cancel an appointment, it may get put off until it’s too late. 

Convert upcoming visits to telehealth to prevent missed appointments

While high no-show rates for in-person care are concerning for patient outcomes, as well as your bottom line, data shows that virtual visits have the potential to provide relief. A 2020 study in Telemedicine and e-Health found that telehealth visits have a no-show rate of just 7.5%, four times lower than the average in-office no-show rate prior to the pandemic. That difference increased even more during the pandemic, according to the study. 

When sending appointment reminders or responding to cancellations, offer a telehealth visit if a patient says he or she can’t make it to the office. Providing a virtual-appointment alternative not only helps that patient get needed care, it ensures retained revenue for that patient’s visit.

Automate the waitlist process to quickly refill canceled appointments

You can’t prevent all no-shows or last-minute cancellations, but you can respond to them more efficiently. Staff may manually call patients to backfill cancellations, but it can be time-consuming and costly. Automation can accomplish that task in a matter of minutes without staff effort. 

An automated schedule-management tool can turn cancellations into opportunities. When a patient cancels a visit, the tool identifies other clinically relevant patients with upcoming appointments and automatically sends them a text message offering the earlier, reopened appointment slot. The first patient to reply gets that appointment—no waitlist sign-ups, apps, portals or staff work required. That means fewer empty slots—and in turn, more revenue. 

Keep patients engaged with prompt follow-up after they cancel or fail to show for an appointment

Follow-up after a cancellation or no-show is important, not only for patient retention but also to ensure that essential medical needs are addressed before they get worse. Following up within 24 hours of a missed appointment can keep patients engaged in their care. Make sure your message conveys empathy and understanding, emphasizing that their provider wants to attend to their unaddressed medical needs as soon as possible. 

Technology and templated messaging can help automate this process and prompt patients to reschedule promptly by offering upcoming timeslots for self-scheduling or allowing the patient to make an appointment request with a quick click.   

Reducing no-shows is possible when patients are empowered with the right tools. That’s why it’s so important for provider organizations to put innovative technology in the hands of patients—before, during and after their visit—so that they can take an active role in their own care. Learn how Phreesia can help you streamline the appointment process, avoid empty timeslots and reduce lost revenue from no-shows.