Of all the problems healthcare professionals face, patient no-shows can be the trickiest. Patient absenteeism is persistent and costly. No-shows affect productivity and disrupt operations. They create extra work, costing time and money. The end result is that absent patients don’t get the care they need.
When it comes to scheduling, you probably already follow common best practices. You may even think you’ve done quite a bit to tackle the no-show problem. But did you know that most practices are accidentally encouraging no-shows? Here are 10 of the most common mistakes, and what you can do to correct them.
1. Not Having a Cancellation Policy
Many physicians don’t like cancellation policies because they feel harsh. Unfortunately, you can’t assume that patients know that no-shows affect you. Many don’t. You have to tell patients that your practice wants them to come to their appointments. Have a clear cancellation policy in place. Give every patient a written copy of it, and enforce it.
2. Not Charging a Fee for No-Shows
Not having a cancellation fee also tells patients that no-shows are okay. After all, it won’t cost them anything if they don’t show up. The only way to enforce your cancellation policy is to charge a mandatory fee for no-shows. You can always waive it in the case of an unavoidable situation.
3. Not Sending Appointment Reminders
Most no-shows are the result of patients forgetting appointments or making mistakes. Automated reminder calls and text messages reduce no-shows without increasing overhead. This solution is a true no-brainer. If you want your patients to come to their appointment, this is a great way to say it.
4. Having an Unwelcoming Staff
Common sense dictates that more people will show up where they feel welcome. Unfortunately, it’s easy for front office staff to forget to be friendly. This spells trouble. Patients, when in pain, want to feel nurtured. At the very least, they want to feel liked. Make friendly patient interaction the keystone of your practice.
5. Letting Patients Wait Too Long
If patients spend too long in the waiting room, they tend to feel that their time isn’t important to you. They might even think that you are so busy, they are doing everyone a favor by not showing up. If you are double-booking patients to handle no-shows, don’t. It may seem like a great solution, but over time it can backfire. Instead, make it a point to treat your patients as quickly as possible.
6. Making it Too Easy to Cancel
Too many practices allow patients to cancel at the last minute by pressing a button on their phone or clicking a link in their patient portal. Instead, have the patient call the office and talk to the staff. Remember, it’s much harder to let a person down than to “Press 3 to cancel”. Plus, a phone call lets you salvage the appointment and reschedule the patient right away.
7. Booking Appointments Way Into the Future
Studies show that a large gap between the scheduling conversation and the actual appointment spells no-shows. After all, if the patient is suffering, they have to seek treatment elsewhere. If you are booking too far into the future, consider temporarily turning down new patients. Then, focus on your current clientele until your lead time becomes reasonable.
8. Not Explaining the Health Consequences of No-Shows
All patients come to you to feel better. Sometimes they do not realize that skipping treatments can make recovery take longer. So, whenever appropriate, spell it out. Explain how regular treatment can ease their pain, but that they must show up in order for it to work.
9. Not Offering Convenient Office Hours
Patients often cancel because of work. They make an appointment and then find out they can’t miss work on the scheduled day. If you are only open during standard business hours, many will have a hard time seeing you. Consider offering some hours on the weekend, and/or in the early evening… especially if you are growing a new practice.
10. Having an Inconvenient Location
A major reason given for cancellations is lack of transportation. Although you may not always be able to choose your location, keep this in mind. When selecting an office location, don’t forget that the availability of public transportation is a must.