Understanding Patient Appointment Confirmations
“Why aren’t we getting more patient appointment confirmations? We’re sending reminders every day!” This is a question we get often, and the answers are as varied as the patients themselves. A patient that is in pain, for example, may hit “confirm” to lock in an appointment that may reduce their pain. On the other hand, a healthy patient, who can miss a checkup without any serious consequences, may not be as motivated to commit to a time.
Reasons why patients don’t always confirm appointments also have to do with when and how they receive the appointment reminder. For example, a person who has a desk job and checks their email every day is more likely to click “confirm” in an email, than a person who seldomly checks their email account. Meanwhile, a patient who receives a text message appointment reminder should never type “YES” or even “C”, to confirm–if they are driving.
And sometimes, the number of appointment confirmations can be affected by the nature of the appointment itself. For example, a parent may not feel like confirming an orthodontist visit, when they have not yet really decided to pay $5k to get their child braces.
Do Patient Appointment Confirmations Matter?
Luckily, nothing suggests that a patient who doesn’t confirm won’t show up to the appointment. Here at ReminderCall, we have watched patient relationship software evolve. In our experience, appointment reminders were cutting no-shows by 37% to 45% before confirmation technology was even available. In other words, reminding patients of their appointments reduces no-shows, whether they choose to hit the confirm button or not. Maybe it’s because 27% of people miss healthcare appointments because they simply forget about them.
That said, patient appointment confirmations (and cancellations) are helpful. Together they allow healthcare staff to fill otherwise empty time slots. This, in fact, reduces the wait time for patients who need to be seen right away. This added communication helps the business’ bottom line as well as the patient’s care.
Our records show that a typical confirmation reply rate lies somewhere between 49% and 61%. If your appointment confirmation rate is significantly lower than the norm, here are some steps you can take to get more patients to confirm. Some healthcare providers may not need to follow all of them. However, if you have a serious no-show problem (like many pediatricians during the summer months), you may want to experiment with each one.
Getting More Patient Appointment Confirmations
1. Double-Check All Contact Information
Patients change jobs, email addresses, and phone numbers regularly. They even change their last names. Be sure, when booking an appointment, to verify all contact information. This is the first step to being able to communicate with the patient to get that appointment confirmation before their next visit.
2. Provide a Record of the Appointment
The goal here is to get the appointment onto the patient’s calendar. Traditionally, patients received a little card with the details of the appointment. Although this is still a valuable tool for patients who are making an appointment face-to-face, it isn’t an option when a patient is on the phone or online. So we recommend sending an immediate record of the appointment. This allows patients to add the appointment to their phone’s calendar at the click of a button.
An email is great for this purpose as it can include details and instructions. The email should, of course, highlight the date and time of the appointment and a map to your office. To avoid spam filters, include the name of your business, a physical address, as well as an unsubscribe link. You can also include a link to an online registration or intake form. Adding instructions on what to wear or what kind of documentation to bring can be very helpful. Plus, this is also a great opportunity to remind patients of your cancellation policy.
Here is a sample email template for sending a record of the appointment to the patient:
Thank you for scheduling your physical with Dr. Smith on January 25, 2021, at 8:30 a.m. Please call (888) 858-6673 at least 48 hours prior to your appointment to make a change.
Remember to fill out our online patient registration form prior to your appointment. You can add this appointment to your calendar, view directions to our office, and read our cancellation policy by using the links below. Thanks again for choosing Mountain Family Clinic.
We look forward to seeing you!
Mountain Family Clinic
123 A street
Mountain View, CA 95037”
3. Request a Patient Appointment Confirmation One Week Ahead
Now you’d like to give the patient an opportunity to either confirm or reschedule the appointment. This information will give your office staff time to fill the empty appointment slot with someone from your waiting list. Of course, if you run a surgery center that requires more time to reschedule patients, you may experiment with sending this request 10 days or two weeks before the appointment, to see what works best.
Although you can use an automated call, text message, or email for this purpose, in our experience, calls and text messages are more likely to be seen in a timely manner and get an instant response. Again, you want to include the date, time, and place of the event. Instead of telling patients how to cancel, instruct them to reschedule so that your office can try to salvage the appointment.
Here is a simple call template for this type of request:
“Hi <FirstName>. We’ve reserved your appointment with <Provider> on <Date> at <Time>. Please press 1 to confirm. If you are not able to come, please let us know as soon as possible by calling 888 858-6673. Thank you and see you soon!”
4. Send a Patient Reminder 1 Day Before
This last message is the most critical one. The patient reminder combats forgetfulness and creates a sense of urgency. As a bonus, it gives you one last chance to get that appointment confirmation if you have not yet received one.
The following text message template focuses on the fact that the appointment is happening tomorrow:
“You have an appt. with Dr. Smith tomorrow, January 25, 2021, at 8:30 a.m. Please reply C to confirm or call 888 858-6673 to change.”
5. Try Not to Promote a Cancellation
Although it is tempting to use convenient features such as Press 1 to Cancel or Click Here to Cancel, the word “cancel” just is not good for business. After all, anyone can get tempted to cancel a painful or inconvenient procedure if it takes just one keypress! By making it easy to cancel, you are giving permission for patients to cancel at the last minute.
Better instructions sound like this: Press 1 to transfer to our office, or: Please call our office at (888) 888-8888 with any questions. It gives your office a chance to talk to the patient and make sure they reschedule.
6. Use a Solid Appointment Cancellation Policy
Great communication is key to having an appointment cancellation policy that helps you reduce gaps in your schedule. Train your staff on how to enforce your cancellation policy. Then, have all new patients sign your appointment cancellation policy when they fill out their registration forms.
Although intimidating, cancellation fees are effective at reducing last-minute cancellations. In fact, many patients will decide not to cancel once they know that there’s a fee. Some providers charge a nominal fee, while others charge the entire cost of the appointment. Be sure to train your staff to let patients know that last-minute cancellations will result in a fee. To come up with a reasonable fee, consider what a missed appointment costs you. Add up overhead costs and set a fee that reflects those losses.
In general, medical practices experience various levels of compliance. A general practitioner who sees patients once every six months will receive a different amount of appointment confirmations than a physical therapist who sees a patient three times a week. Therefore, we recommend a custom strategy when requesting appointment confirmations. Experiment with different confirmation emails, pre-reminder text messages, and appointment reminder calls at different intervals to see what works best for you. For help and suggestions, please call (888) 858-6673, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.