Without a doubt, missed appointments and last-minute cancellations are costly to your practice. On average, the financial ramification is $200 per no-show across healthcare, including audiology practices. Yet, the lost revenue doesn’t stop there. In addition to paying staff to not see patients, those who miss appointments tend to be prone to missing more.
To add to the frustration and financial loss of what has become an increasingly common occurrence, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it an unprecedented set of challenges to practices. Low staffing and ongoing national employment quandaries have placed additional strain on operations and financial outlooks not necessarily due to faulty practice workflows.
To help, we chatted with Raechel Duplain, Head of Solutions at Podium Marketing.
The Hidden Costs of No-Shows & Cancelled Appointments
Any appointment-based healthcare practice loses revenue every time a patient fails to show or cancels an appointment without giving enough notice to fill the open slot. Audiology practices, for example, are capped with the number of patients who can be seen in one day. The hidden costs in one lost appointment includes lost productivity and lost opportunities to bring in revenue that helps to keep the business in operation. One missed or cancelled appointment can result in an adverse ripple effect.
According to Duplain, a patient with one or more no-shows is less likely to return for 18 months. For a patient who needs to be seen every six months or on a regular schedule, one no-show can lead to the beginning of compromised health. Patients who miss one appointment are more likely to miss more. And alarmingly, patients who miss one appointment are 70% more likely to attrit altogether.
Despite the variety of specialties, there are some striking similarities that all healthcare practices share. “Elderly patients, for example, who schedule afternoon, rather than morning, appointments to see their provider are more likely to miss those appointments primarily due to forgetfulness,” explains Duplain. “The top three reasons patients do not show or cancel at the last minute are: concern for the cost of care, fear, and lack of convenience. The latter, the convenience factor, has toppled many of the other reasons during the pandemic era and we predict that trend will likely continue.”
Mitigating Attrition, Maximizing Benefits
Audiology practices are no different than other customer-facing businesses: maintaining a relationship with your current patients is far more cost-effective than attracting new patients – attrition is costly and not sustainable.
In the post-shutdown, pandemic era more than ever, the healthcare consumer wants convenience. No longer willing to sit on hold to try to schedule or cancel an appointment, patients are bypassing wait-times and inconveniences for practices that make it easy to communicate, schedule, and cancel, including patients of all ages and demographics.
“Short message service (SMS), commonly referred to as text messaging, is the number one preferred method of communication for your patients, the healthcare consumer,” states Duplain. “Choosing how you interact with your patients is critical to not only maintaining the patients you have but also attracting new ones.”
For every appointment-based operation, like an audiology practice, filling and completing patient appointments is the top priority for operational staff. In today’s tech-driven environment, using patient-centric, convenient communication is the key to keeping existing patients. And for growth-minded practices, investing in your online reputation is critical to successfully attracting new ones.
Through Duplain’s research at Podium, below are 10 proven ways to decrease appointment no-shows at little-to-no cost.
10 No Cost|Low-Cost Solutions to Lessen Appointment No-Shows
- Make it easy for patients. Nationwide, healthcare consumers have consistently said they prefer text messaging communication. On average, email open rates are between 1 and 2% while texts messages have a 90% open rate. The consumer has made it clear what they want. Offices that communicate with patients in their preferred method are seen as having staff who are patient-centric which results in highly-coveted appointments, which, as a reminder, are less likely to be missed or cancelled.
- Make every touchpoint a positive one for your patients. The patient experience goes well beyond the actual appointment. With the initial scheduling of the appointment, including the pre-appointment communication, reminders of the pending appointment, and follow-up communication including a thank you will add to your patient’s experience. A positive patient experience leads to completed appointments and if a patient cancels or does not show, they are more likely to schedule when their overall impression of the office has been positive.
- Emphasize the pre-appointment experience. When a patient can easily schedule an appointment, for example, at night on their terms through your website, they will choose convenience over trying to call a busy office during their busy day which often requires them to take multiple steps to reach the right person, to sometimes being put on hold. Respect begets respect and this is particularly important in welcoming new patients. The more convenient you make the scheduling and pre-appointment requirements for the patient, the higher the likelihood the patient will keep their appointment and will be less likely to cancel.
- Patient-centric language is essential. A no-show or cancellation policy that sets the precedent for you to bill patients for a no-show or cancelled appointment can be effective in the short-term but typically has drawbacks. Put yourself in your patients’ shoes. Which message would you rather receive? ‘Cancellations less than 24 hours prior to appointments will result in a no-show fee’ or ‘You are welcome to cancel up to 24 hours before your scheduled appointment time.’
- Invest in how your practice is perceived online. By maintaining an active presence through your Google business profiles and other third-party review sites such as Healthgrades, Dr. Com, Yelp, etc., you will be perceived as having highly-coveted appointments. Highly-coveted appointments are less likely to be missed or canceled.
- Understand the power of patient reviews. The total number of reviews is not always as important as how current the reviews are. It isn’t enough to ask for reviews and then stop once you hit a certain number. A practice with fewer online reviews that are more current will show up in a patient’s search ahead of a practice with more reviews that are outdated.
- Ask every patient you see to write an online review. It is okay to ask them more than once and in more than one way. When a patient is leaving your office and/or scheduling their next appointment, ask them to leave a review. You can also send an email or text message as part of your office follow-up protocol. A same-day message is considered to be best practice although some offices have success with next-day automated message.
- Accept the fact that a poor review is better than no review. It may seem antithetical to have a bad review or less than a perfect 5-Star rating, but in reality, ratings between 4.2 and 4.8 are the most trusted. A negative review gives you the opportunity to show how you responded which is valuable to potential patients.
- Cancellation or wait-lists can work if you have the lead flow. In some cases, a wait-list for cancelled appointments can help to boost the perception of a highly-coveted appointment. However, communication channels must be convenient and streamlined for the convenience of the consumer, your patient.
- Monthly promotions build customer loyalty, even in healthcare. We are accustomed to seeing loyalty programs in other industries and these approaches can be equally effective in healthcare. For example, in dentistry, an office that promotes a discount on teeth-whitening during a certain month helps to maintain the patient connection. The same is true with a free toothbrush with the dentist’s name stamped on it. Be creative with how you can engage patients when they are not in your office which leads to loyalty and a lower attrition rate.
Patient-first policies lead to completed appointments
Appointment no-shows and last-minute cancellations are a fact of life and part of running a business. Life happens and there will be times when patients simply cannot keep their appointment. However, by implementing a few patient-centric strategies and improving your online reputation to help your appointments be perceived as highly coveted, the likelihood of attrition problems will decrease. And the efforts often prove to be easier and less costly than originally thought.