In previous posts, my colleagues and I have talked about various scheduling and appointment reminder practices for boosting patient retention rates, reducing no-shows and last-minute cancellations, and getting the most out of your patient appointment reminders.
We’ve delved into some of the most vital aspects of patient scheduling and appointment reminders, but we haven’t yet gone into detail about which appointment reminder channels (e.g., email, text message, and voice call) you should send and when.
So which types of reminders should you employ, and when should you send them?
The short answer: All of them, and optimal send times will vary.
Let’s take a look at some important points to consider before sending appointment reminders.
Creating an Efficient Appointment Reminder System
Determining which appointment reminder channels to use and when to send reminders to your patients isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Every practice is unique and has its own set of challenges, so choosing the right solution for your practice is key.
Below are three key factors worth examining when tailoring an appointment reminder system to your practice:
1. How long do you keep your schedule open?
Our team at Vital Interaction works with some practices that only open their schedules 90 days in advance, while others we work with keep their schedules open for two years. A general rule of thumb is that the greater the time between an appointment request and the date of service, the greater the likelihood the patient will need to reschedule.
We usually recommend sending a reminder far enough in advance to allow for easy rescheduling. Not only will strategic timing make patient scheduling easier on your staff, but at the very least, you’re giving the patient fair warning to clear his or her schedule so he or she can attend the appointment.
With that said, it’s not uncommon for practices to send an initial appointment reminder one to two weeks prior to an appointment. (To learn more about how to make the most of your schedule, regardless of how long you keep it open, check out Vital Interaction’s Founder and COO’s recent post on smart scheduling strategies.)
2. If a patient calls for an appointment today, how long will he or she have to wait?
Some practices monitor their third next-available appointment, while others make an on-the-spot judgment call. Either way, the winning question is: how hard is it to get an appointment with your provider(s)?
As a rule, the harder it is for patients to secure appointments with your provider(s), the sooner you need to send the first appointment reminder. This practice will also help you identify those patients who need to cancel or reschedule, and, thus, how many open appointment slots are available to be filled by patients who need to be seen within a short time.
In short, if it’s tough for patients to book appointments with your providers, I suggest sending initial appointment reminders about five to seven days prior to patients’ appointments, which can shake out some openings for your staff to fill.
3. How much time does your staff need to fill an empty appointment slot?
Again, each practice is unique, so this can go a number of different ways.
Maybe you run a skeleton crew and everyone wears several hats, so schedule changes require more time and effort from your staff.
In contrast, perhaps you have dedicated schedulers and moving patients to fill empty slots is part of your staff’s normal routine.
Or maybe your practice is like those with such highly specialized schedules that rescheduling requires a lot of effort on your staff’s part to reorganize and reschedule.
It’s wise to understand your practice’s workflow and your staff’s scheduling capacity to get the most out of your appointment reminder system.
In general, though, the majority of practices typically only need two or three days to efficiently reschedule patients’ appointments.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that regardless of your workflow or scheduling capabilities, within 48 hours of an appointment date your emphasis should shift from identifying those patients who need to reschedule to getting your patients to actually show up.
With these three key considerations in mind, let’s now take a look at the pros and cons of the different types of appointment reminders.
Leveraging the Three Primary Appointment Reminder Channels
Each of the three main appointment reminder channels—email, text, and voice-call or interactive voice response (IVR)—has a place in a successful appointment reminder plan.
For example, while emails fall short in terms of urgency, they really shine when it comes to delivering meaningful content and expressing the voice of the practice.
Text messages, on the other hand, though short, are timely and effective. They easily allow you to deliver reminders during business hours so that your staff can quickly respond to any questions from those patients receiving reminders. In fact, most patients prefer this type of appointment reminder.
And finally, voice calls or IVRs are still useful, even if configured as a last resort. There are times when this particular channel of communication is the only way to reach some patients.
As you can see, each channel has its uses.
A Solid Appointment Reminder System and You
The “perfect” appointment reminder system is one that balances the needs of the practice (getting the patient to show up, on time and at the right location) with the needs of the patient (remembering the appointment details and any special instructions). So I say: send each type of appointment reminder, and send them at times that it makes sense for both your staff and your patients.
Use every opportunity available to remind your patients about their appointments because when a patient forgets their appointment, who do they blame? Themselves? No, they blame you. What’s more is you lose precious time and money, often without an opportunity to generate some sort of reimbursement, and, moreover—you guessed it—the patient almost always needs to be rescheduled.
Save yourself time, money, and frustration by being strategic about your appointment reminder schedule. Effective appointment reminders can make a big difference in the number of missed appointments your practice experiences, and, overall, the productivity and profitability of your practice.
Click here to learn more tips and strategies for creating better patient appointment reminders.
What does “patient engagement,” one of our industry’s most complex—and most common—buzzwords, actually mean? Join us on Thursday, July 27, at 1:00 p.m. CDT, as we unpack what patient engagement means, what are some effective ways of measuring your practice’s patient engagement, and how your rate compares to competitors. Click here to register.