If you’ve ever scheduled an appointment while completing other tasks, you probably didn’t write down the appointment details. No worries; you’re not alone. Most, if not all, people do it too. It’s instances like these that make appointment reminders a necessity to patients, most of who will want to sign up to receive these reminders when possible.
In some of our recent blog posts, we discussed the importance of employing smart patient scheduling strategies to secure higher patient retention rates and the various ways in which appointment reminders can help reduce no-show rates. While you may now have a better grasp on the important role that appointment reminders play in streamlining your scheduling process and reducing patient no-shows, you may not have as solid a grasp on best practices for creating and implementing these reminders.
Sending patient appointment reminders via multiple channels (e.g., email, text message, and interactive voice response (IVR) or phone calls) can go a long way toward ensuring your patients are actually receiving their reminders and other relevant appointment information. But each message type is its own beast, and there are a few key factors to consider—like message content and send times—that can take your appointment reminders to the next level.
Syncing Your Appointment Reminder System and Practice Workflow
While I am a veteran at creating messages, I still require a starting point and can easily get overwhelmed with too many details, which, while necessary, may not always fit into every message type. The type of message you send will determine how much information you should include. So before we dive into which details to include in your reminders, let’s first consider what type of workflow your office will incorporate.
Below are three fairly standard workflows that I’ll be referencing and using as a framework for crafting effective patient reminders:
- The Easy-going workflow, which only allows patients to confirm their appointments and requires little to no follow-up by your staff
- The Determined workflow, which generally allows patients to either confirm or decline their appointment, but also requires staff to follow up with patients who decline their appointments
- The Goal-oriented workflow, which is similar to the Determined one; however, it also involves contacting those patients who’ve not responded to their appointment reminders.
Notice each type of reminder workflow requires different levels of staff involvement. When choosing which workflow will work best for your practice’s purposes, it’s crucial to assess whether your staff is equipped to handle the volume of additional inbound phone calls that will inevitably accompany appointment reminders. In later sections, you’ll better understand why examining your staff’s scheduling capabilities is such an important first step.
Once you have a better idea of the approach your practice is going to take, let’s look at the different communication channels and best practices for using them.
Creating Effective Email Appointment Reminders
Of the three primary types of messages, emails can contain the most information, which is more convenient for both patients and staff. For example, emails may include any of the following:
- Special instructions needed for the upcoming appointment, like any fasting or lab requirements that need to be completed prior to the appointment
- Your cancellation policy
- A button or link directing patients to your new-patient intake forms or patient portal
- Links to your practice’s social media accounts
- Directions to your office
The options are endless, really.
The trick to email appointment reminders is determining not only your workflow, but also your send time. How far in advance you choose to send email appointment reminders can help guide your decision on which confirmation and cancellation options to include. If, for example, you decide to send the patient an email reminder more than 72 hours prior to the appointment, I suggest removing the confirm and decline buttons.
On the other hand, when sending email reminders five days ahead of the appointment and the patient confirms the appointment, we typically send another appointment reminder to the patient, as five days’ time is enough to forget their appointment time. However, in situations in which you need to fill in empty time slots, it’s smart to include a decline appointment button to optimize your staff’s workflow.
With the importance of email send times in mind, let’s check out three practical email templates to consider using to create email appointment reminders.
Customizing Your Emails
There are three primary email templates we start with: “Effortless,” “Confirm and Decline,” and “Confirm with Hyperlinks.” These templates correspond with respect to the three workflows discussed in a previous section.
|Confirm with Hyperlinks|
Each template is different not only in terms of staff involvement, but also in formatting and size for easy modification. For example, it’s usually easier to remove a button than to add one for some email templates. Some practices may want to link to their social media profiles while others may not. The template you decide to work from will depend on your workflow, timing, and ultimately, how much content you want to include.
Now that we’ve tackled email appointment reminders, let’s take a closer look at best practices for using text-message and IVR appointment reminders.
Fine-tuning Text-message Appointment Reminders
Unlike emails, texts are required to be short and sweet—that’s why you see the use of so many acronyms and abbreviated words in texts.
Short Message Service (SMS) uses a standard industry protocol of limiting 160 characters per text message sent. Longer messages will be split into smaller parts resulting in multiple text messages being sent to the patient. This may or may not be an issue for patients with smartphones or unlimited texting, but you will want to consider how you structure the sentences.
Though in the little over three years I’ve served as Vital Interaction’s Implementation Manager I’ve yet to receive any complaints from clients regarding too many texts being sent as one message, it’s important to note that including the group name, provider name, and the facility name and address in the opening typically makes the text message too long. If you find yourself with too many details, consider restructuring the flow of the text.
Tailoring Your Text Messages
Below are some ways you can shorten and optimize text-message appointment reminders:
|Instead of:||Confirmation||You can try:||Confirmation|
(Goal-oriented and Determined workflows)
|You have an appointment on 5/14 at 12pm with Dr. Smith at ABC Wellness Associates at our Southeast Office located at 123 Getting Healthy Drive. Please arrive 15 minutes early. Reply Y to confirm or N to decline. Reply STOP to stop receiving messages.||Thank you for confirming your appointment. We will see you soon.||Appt on 5/14 at 12 pm with Dr. Smith at ABC Wellness Associates. Please arrive 15 minutes early. Reply Y to confirm of N to Decline. Reply STOP for to stop receiving messages.||Thanks for confirming. We will see you at our Southeast Office located at 123 Getting Healthy Drive.|
|Thank you for confirming your appointment. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your appointment. Please bring your insurance card, photo ID, and copay.||Thanks for confirming. Please arrive 15 minutes early with your insurance card, photo ID, and copay.|
Tackling Text-message Appointment Cancellations
Once you’ve chosen the type of text message you want to send, you must then determine how you want to handle appointment cancellations. As with email cancellations, this will depend on your staff’s ability to handle an influx of incoming calls.
Here are two pretty standard decline options to send to patients:
- Thank you for letting us know to cancel your appointment. We will call you to reschedule.
- Thanks for letting us know. Please call us at (512) 512-5125 to reschedule your appointment.
If you’re incorporating either the Goal-oriented or Determined workflows, you must first decide whether you want patients to call you when they decline or cancel their appointments or if your staff will call the patient to reschedule. Do you have enough staff to handle the volume of additional inbound phone calls, or is your staff plenty busy handling your current volume of patient calls?
If you answered yes to either of those questions, option A may be the best for your practice’s needs. If you have a call center or enough staff to help cover inbound patient calls, though, you can consider option B, in which you instruct the patients to call the office to reschedule.
We’ve now reviewed two of the three main message types and best practices for employing them. Let’s take a deeper look at optimizing IVRs.
Making the Most of IVRs
When creating your IVRs, you have more flexibility in terms of length when compared to text messages. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you have a short amount of time to keep patients’ attention and on the line long enough to give you their response, whereas if patients miss the initial phone call, they can always call the phone number back to hear the messages in its entirety. Part of our strategy includes assigning a unique phone number to your text and phone-call appointment reminders.
Designing Your IVRs
Here are some examples of ways to structure your IVRs:
|Live Voice Message||This is a friendly reminder from ABC Wellness Associates that you have an appointment scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, 2017, at 12:00 p.m. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your appointment. Please bring your insurance card, photo ID, and copay. To confirm you will be at this appointment, please press 1. To cancel or reschedule your appointment, please press 9.||Hello, Jyotsna, this a friendly reminder from ABC Wellness Associates that you have an appointment scheduled with Dr. Smith on Tuesday, May 14, 2017, at 12:00 p.m. To confirm you will be at this appointment, please press 1. To cancel or reschedule your appointment, please press 9.|
|Confirmation||Thanks for confirming your appointment. We will see you soon.||Thank you for confirming your appointment. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your appointment. Please bring your insurance card, photo ID, and copay. We look forward to seeing you.|
|Voicemail Option||(Voicemail) This is a friendly reminder from ABC Wellness Associates that you have an appointment scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, 2017, at 12:00 p.m. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your appointment. Please bring your insurance card, photo ID, and copay. To cancel or reschedule your appointment, please call us at (512) 512-5125. We look forward to seeing you.||(Voicemail) This is a friendly reminder from ABC Wellness Associates that Jyotsna has an appointment scheduled for Tuesday, May 14, 2017, at 12:00 p.m. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your appointment. Please bring your insurance card, photo ID, and copay. To cancel or reschedule your appointment, please call us at (512) 512-5125. We look forward to seeing you.|
Resolving IVR Appointment Cancellations
As with email and text cancellations, you must consider your staff’s capability of handling an inrush of inbound phone calls when determining how to respond to IVR appointment cancellations.
Again, if you have a call center or enough staff that inbound phone calls aren’t an issue, I strongly recommend connecting patients to your office when they decline the appointment. This feature could potentially cut down on the amount of follow-up required by your staff. Should you decide not to use this feature, we will give the patient a call back number instead of connecting them to the office.
The Vital Interaction Difference
The takeaway: Optimizing the content of your appointment reminders is a fundamental step toward efficient communication and follow-up with your patients. There are various content and messaging options to decide from, depending on your practice’s workflow and your staff’s scheduling process and capabilities.
Our Automated Patient Interaction System is an interactive, easy-to-customize solution that strengthens communication between your practice and your patients. Our appointment reminder feature enables you to connect with your patients automatically and effectively using two-way email, text/SMS, and IVR communications, making patient appointment reminders one less obstacle for your practice to overcome.
Whether you need to create a new email message or a new text message, you call always find your messages in the CMT → Search Messages. Or, if you need to find a message association, you can view them in the CMT → Associated Messages.
In addition, we now offer a solution to create IVRs at your convenience. We even make it simple to make recording requests.
You can find other useful information on our VI Support website. If you are not quite yet ready and need assistance with your messages, we are always an email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does patient engagement actually mean? In our upcoming webinar, we’ll be discussing effective ways of measuring your practice’s patient engagement and how your rate compares to competitors. Click here to save your seat!