No-shows are the bane of medical offices’ existence. Patients’ failure to attend scheduled appointments wastes time, saps resources and – perhaps above all else – costs money. Indeed, the 60-minute time slots needed for checkups, at primary care practices, cost medical offices $200, on average, according to a CrossCHX report. That translates to a daily total of $725 and a yearly total of $150 billion for the medical industry at large, all due to the unnecessarily high number of no-shows.
What’s to blame? There’s no single factor. It depends on the circumstances of the patient and effectiveness of the appointment reminders.
Here are eight of the most common reasons for patients missing appointments, along with our recommended patient engagement strategies for reducing no-shows. In the end, these efforts may help diminish wait times and enhance patient satisfaction.
1. Patients forget about it
Patients often have too much to do and not enough time to fit it all in. Add pre-scheduled appointment times to the mix – especially when they are booked months in advance – and people are bound to forget.
“The key to helping patients overcome such oversights is by engaging patients more comprehensively.”
The key to helping them overcome such oversights is engaging patients more comprehensively with each visit. For instance, if their next checkup is for follow-up purposes, they should understand the importance of why they need to come in and what the exam will entail. Additionally, you may want to ask them about what reminder system works best for them, whether that’s by email, text message, phone call or via social media.
2. Patients don’t want to come in
It’s safe to assume that going to primary care isn’t the first thing patients want to do with their time.
To reduce no-show rates that attribute to this cause, you may want to discuss your office’s cancelation policy. You obviously can’t force patients to come when they don’t want to, but they should be aware of how missing appointments drains resources, which is why they may be charged if they don’t cancel or reschedule 48 to 72 hours before their appointment time.
3. Patients don’t have transportation
According to ride management services provider Circulation, an estimated 3.6 million patients miss scheduled appointments due to lack of transportation.
Patients who live in cities with good public transit have an advantage. But even when there are subway or bussing systems, elderly patients may have a difficult time with walking once they’re dropped off.
Through automated appointment reminders – which can be sent hours or several days in advance – patients can make the arrangements they need to determine the best way to get to their appointment and what to do if their original plans fall through. Uber, Lyft or friends and relatives may be able to give patients a ride if they can’t drive themselves.
4. Patients have work obligations
In virtually every study, Americans spend more time on the job than any other industrialized nation. And it is taking a toll on their long-term health – physically, mentally and emotionally. According to a 2017 poll from recruitment firm Robert Half, a majority of people in the U.S. experience stress on a daily basis while at work and 60% acknowledged feeling it more often over the last five years.
Fortunately, businesses are increasingly taking work-life balance more seriously to reduce work-related anxiety. Medical facilities can be more mindful of their patients’ busy schedules by optimizing appointment reminder solutions, which detail how long they’ll last. Medical offices may also want to set aside certain appointment windows for patients whose work schedules prevent them from coming in during normal business hours. In short, being more accommodating can further enhance patient satisfaction.
5. Patients don’t think it’s necessary
It’s not uncommon for patients to reconsider whether appointments are really needed, especially when the scheduled appointments draw nearer.
“It’s important to be clear about what an office visit is for and why patients should come in.”
It is important to be clear about what an office visit is for and why they should come in. Sometimes, they may actually not need to if the appointment is to go over test results. They may be able to obtain these through patient portals, which can be detailed over the phone. Otherwise, voicemails and emails can help provide specifics about why the in-office visit is key.
6. Patients had a bad previous experience
Rudeness. Unfulfilled expectations. Misdiagnosis. Hurt feelings. These are just a few of the things that can happen in a patient-provider interaction. Occasionally, poor experiences may derive from innocent mistakes or miscommunications. No matter how they occur, the point is that they do, and every effort must be taken to ensure they don’t. This can come from demonstrating a more authentic bedside manner and going above and beyond the call of duty to assure patients that their comfort is your medical office’s No. 1 aim.
7. Patients dread lengthy wait times
They wouldn’t call it a waiting room if patients could be seen just as soon as they arrived. However, when it takes too long, it can dramatically lower patient satisfaction, especially when the nature of their appointment is serious. ProPublica tracks waiting times nationwide on a fairly regular basis and groups the times by category (e.g. time until sent home, time before admission, etc). You can see where emergency rooms in your area stand in this regard.
Practices can be more attentive to their patients’ time through better staffing and reaching out to patients on a real-time basis to inform them when seeing the doctor may be delayed or needs to be rescheduled. Being more considerate of patients’ time can help reduce no-show rates.
8. Patients mix up day/time
No one is immune to mistakes and they can often be the silly kind, like thinking an appointment time is at 1:30 p.m. when it’s actually at 1:00 or for Friday, not Thursday.
Automated appointment reminders can make mix-ups like these a thing of the past as patients will be notified exactly when they are scheduled to arrive. Whether that’s by text, voice or email, confused timelines are mistakes that are easily avoided.
For more than 20 years, Tangible Solutions has specialized in tailored patient engagement solutions that can make your practice run more seamlessly. We can optimize your communication channels so patients missing appointments are the exception to the rule. Please contact us today to learn more.