Patients who do not arrive for their established appointments with a healthcare practice, also known as “no-shows,” represent a significant loss of revenue for healthcare practices. Studies indicate no-show rates of over 20% in situations where the patient did not receive any additional communication after initially setting up the appointment, and therefore, most healthcare practices have instituted appointment reminders. With recent technological advances, the concept of appointment reminders has evolved to become a sophisticated appointment confirmation process that drives down no-show rates by using multiple channels of automated messages, each of which seeks a patient’s response as to whether or not they are coming to their appointment. To understand this better, let’s examine the key differences between traditional Appointment Reminders and modern Appointment Confirmations.
Appointment reminders are a 1-way form of communication, such as an email to a patient, a recorded phone call, or a live call from an administrator that goes to a patient’s voice mail. In each of these cases, the patient is reminded of the appointment closer to the actual date, and is less likely to forget about it. Since the main cause of a no-show is a patient simply forgetting about the appointment, these reminders are a fairly effective way to increase attendance.
The main drawback of appointment reminders is that there is no feedback to the practice if the patient is no longer able to make the appointment. It’s possible that the patient never receives the email, text message, or voice mail, or that they do receive the email or voice mail and simply do not pick up the phone to reschedule the appointment with the practice.
Many practice management systems are adding 1-way appointment reminder functionality for emails and text messaging, and while these are helpful, they fall short of the optimal method of reducing no-shows, which is a 2-way appointment confirmation process.
Appointment confirmations extend the capability of patient communication to require some sort of a response from the patient, thereby making it a 2-way communication.
These appointment confirmations provide a simple way for a patient to confirm or reschedule their appointment. For example, with text messages, the patient can reply back with a simple Y to confirm the appointment, or an N to reschedule. For emails, the patient can click a hyperlinked button to confirm, or a different hyperlinked button to reschedule. And with the automated phone calls, the patient can press buttons on their phone for these same options.
By providing this easy and immediate method for patients to confirm or reschedule their appointments, no-show rates drop even further past that of simple reminders. The drop can be explained by the number of appointments that get rescheduled and would have otherwise been no-shows. By knowing ahead of time that patients won’t be able to come, the practice can fill those slots with other patients who are eager to come.
How do you achieve higher response rates with appointment confirmations?
Once you’ve instituted a 2-way appointment confirmation system, how do you go about achieving the highest possible response rates from your patients?
The three main ways to tweak an automated confirmation system to achieve the best response rates are by modifying the channels, the sequence of communication, and the time of contact.
Vital Interaction offers three different channels to communicate with your patients: text messaging, emails, and automated phone calls. You can easily customize which of these three channels is used to interact with each patient, based on their preferences. Patients can always opt-out of any of these forms of communication later, if they change their mind.
It is also simple with Vital Interaction to set up the sequence of the channels used. For instance, a common approach is to send a text message first, followed by an email, followed by an automated phone call. However, this is a coordinated sequence. This means that it will only go to the second channel if it doesn’t get a response from the first one within a specified time window, preventing an overload of messages to the patients.
The last parameter available to increase response rates is the time of contact. If you mostly have home phone number for your patients, calling them during typical office hours (8 AM to 5 PM) will arrive at voicemail a significant portion of the time, as patients are working or busy with errands. Calls done in early evening hours have proven to reach patients a higher percentage of the time, although this is difficult when human staff are only working during ordinary office hours. The automated calling capability and time of contact settings in Vital Interaction address this challenge and can provide higher response rates than during ordinary office hours.
Given the substantial reduction in no-show rates with appointment confirmations, and the high degree of flexibility given with Vital Interaction’s settings for the channels, delivery sequence and times of contact, it’s clear that a superior method of patient-practice communication has emerged.