Patient scheduling is one of the most vital operational processes for a prosperous practice. Yet it often takes a backseat to other patient management tasks, throwing a wrench into many practices’ profitability.
Particularly in light of today’s rapidly changing healthcare environment, it’s wise to have an effective, streamlined patient follow-up and retention process in place to prevent patients from falling through the cracks. Regardless of your medical specialty, the length of time your practice keeps its providers’ schedules open can greatly affect your patient retention rate.
Making the Case for a Streamlined Patient Scheduling Process
Full disclosure: If your practice has regular recurring appointments, such as wellness checks, skin cancer screenings, and prostate checks, in most cases I wouldn’t recommend letting a patient leave your office without either scheduling his or her future appointment or at least entering a manual recall. However, many practices simply haven’t been able to invest the time required to develop an efficient patient follow-up and retention process and, therefore, lose patients.
For example, in studies we conducted with pediatric, family, and even endocrinology practices, we found that one in 10 patients do not return the next year for care. One out of 10 patients may not seem like a lot, but allowing even one patient to fall through the cracks equates to a 10-percent profit loss each year simply from failing to have a proactive scheduling process in place.
That said, I recognize the pains associated with keeping schedules open for one or even two years: It requires moving appointments when providers’ schedules change, and it is often difficult to reach patients to reschedule. And that’s not even including the frustrations experienced when having to modify other scheduling aspects, such as scheduling templates, in your practice management system.
So are the frustrations really worth it?
Before we dive in, here are a few of the industry terms I’ll reference:
- Recall—An entry made in a practice management system to serve as a reminder for when a patient needs to schedule a future appointment. Vital Interaction can automate this via email, text, and voice.
When checking out, many patients don’t know what their availability will be a year (or more) out so they often opt of out scheduling their follow-up visits in advance. That’s where recall messages come in.
Recalls make it easy and convenient for administrative or scheduling staff to reach out to patients and schedule their future appointments, ultimately saving your practice time, and, overall, boosting patient retention and revenue.
- Pre-appointment—One or more messages sent prior to a patient’s appointment.
This scheduling feature helps streamline workflow automation and the delivery of important reminders by informing patients of upcoming appointments, in addition to any necessary tasks they need to complete before their appointment, such as lab work or fasting.
- Automated Reschedules—The ability to send out messages via Vital Interaction to patients, requesting that they call your office and reschedule.
When providers’ schedules change, as they often do, rescheduling patients can be an
exceptionally time-consuming and painstaking task. Automated reschedules, however, save both time and frustration by facilitating about 80 percent of reschedules.
So, for example, if a provider has 20 patients scheduled that need to be moved, automated reschedules ease administrative burdens by effortlessly rescheduling roughly 16 of the 20 patients. That leaves only four patients left to call and reschedule!
- Reactivations—Automated recalls based on certain settings—like time, age, CPT (billing codes), ICD (diagnosis codes), last appointment dates and times, and future appointment dates—to automatically determine when patients should come back in the office for regularly occurring visits, such as wellness checks, asthma follow-ups, skin checks, colonoscopies, and mammograms.
Much like segmenting email lists into engaged and unengaged subscribers, reactivations use your practice’s data to identify patients who meet certain criteria and then automate recalls to those patients. This scheduling feature is particularly useful when determining, for example, patients who haven’t been in the office for a year and for whom recalls weren’t manually entered at their last appointment.
With these definitions in mind, let’s take a look at the cost of not having a practical scheduling process in place and some simple yet powerful strategies for increasing your patient retention rate.
ROI Analysis for Patient Follow-up and Retention Strategies
Take, for example, a basic wellness check that is routinely administered by primary care physicians, pediatricians, and other similar medical specialists. We can assume that the wellness exam is worth $150 a year to the practice. If each provider sees 10 patients a day on average and one doesn’t come back, the practice loses $7,500 in future revenue—and that’s not including sick visits and other common office visits. When one patient turns into two and then into 50, the losses begin to add up quickly.
Steps to a Successful Patient Follow-up and Retention Process
Our team at Vital Interaction has developed tried-and-true strategies to help practices retain that 10 percent of fall-through patients—and even boost retention rates by up to 90 percent.
Whether you partner with us or a competitor, I strongly recommend implementing the following strategies:
Schedule Open One to Three Months
- Recalls—Manually enter recalls prior to patients’ departures and automate the delivery of these recalls.
- Follow-ups—Follow up two or three times with patients who don’t come back and see you.
- Reactivations—Consider reactivations to continue automating your follow-ups.
Schedule Open Six Months to One Year
- Pre-appointments—Use pre-appointment messages when the appointment is booked with a calendar invite.
- Pre-appointment follow-up—Send another pre-appointment notification a few weeks before the scheduled appointment.
- Cancellations and reschedules—Employ appointment cancellation/rescheduling tools to facilitate about 80 percent of reschedules when you must change providers’ schedules.
- Recalls and reactivations—Consider recalls and reactivations for appointments scheduled more than a year out for specialties that require follow-ups every two to five years.
Schedule Open One Year to Five Years
- Pre-appointments—Send pre-appointment messages when the appointment is scheduled with a calendar invite.
- Reminders—Forward friendly reminders to patients at least once a year, requesting their updated contact information.
- Cancellations and reschedules—Make good use of appointment cancellation/rescheduling tools to expedite about 80 percent of reschedules when you must change providers’ schedules.
- Recalls and reactivations—Consider recalls and reactivations for appointments scheduled at least a year out for specialties that require follow-ups every two to five years.
Whether your practice keeps its providers’ schedules open for a few months or a year or more, employing savvy scheduling strategies is essential to retaining patients and, overall, maintaining a thriving practice.
Vital Interaction’s Automated Patient Interaction System can help your practice streamline its processes, reduce operating costs, increase revenue, and improve patient engagement.