4 Steps To Reduce No-Shows: Beyond Patient Appointment Reminders

By Rick Halton, VP Product and Marketing, Lumeon

No-shows are a persistent problem for medical providers. Waiting for patients that never turn up is very costly, in both time and money, not to mention frustrating to hard-working practitioners who want to help people.   

Finding reliable ways to bring down no-shows is exceptionally strategic for healthcare providers. Yet the traditional way of doing so — reminding patients of an upcoming appointment via a manually triggered text or call — does little to put a dent in this problem. Even two- and three-stage reminder processes can have scant effect on no-shows if poorly implemented, leaving providers questioning how to inspire more responsiveness.   

If you’re in this situation, you’re missing a few tricks – let me explain and then try out Lumeon’s new online no-show calculator. 

The fact is, there’s much more to reducing no-shows than sending an appointment reminder. At Lumeon, we’ve created a system focused on providing a holistic, positive engagement experience to help patients easily manage their entire appointments experience.  

In addition to the reminder, patients should receive simple-to-follow instructions about where to go and what will happen at the appointment and should be able to reschedule if needed conveniently. This outreach should be done in line with patients’ personal preferences for timing, method, and communication language.  

This informative, patient-friendly approach is especially important in the context of COVID-19 when skittishness about entering healthcare settings and confusion about safety protocols remain high. Providers are already thinking about how to make appointments safer and more approachable for patients: our most recent survey data shows that the top three tactics providers intend to use to reduce no-show rates are appointment reminders (62% of respondents), virtual or contactless check-in (50%), and sending instructions directly to patients (48%).   

With this more holistic, comprehensive approach, health systems can make sure their no-show rates stay rock bottom. Lumeon recommends these four key steps: 

Step 1. Automate reminders  

Automating reminders has become standard practice. However, to do this effectively, you must make sure your reminders system is integrated into a real-time appointment feed, such as HL7, coming from your scheduling system. This approach ensures that new, modified, and cancelled appointments are always in sync with your reminder notification system. Besides, by delivering messages in the native language, you’ll make sure they are well understood and capture their attention. Your system should send text and voice messages in non-English character sets, such as Chinese, Russian, Arabic, or Hebrew. 

Step 2. Enhance reminders 

The next stage is to take reminder communication to the next level, making it even more impactful. One key enhancement you should consider is encouraging patients to opt-in to SMS reminders – much more convenient for them and more effective than pestering voice calls – you might do this using a simple opt-in message during a voice message flow. A further enhancement is to make sure messages can be delivered using more than 160 characters, the limit for a single SMS message – this is so important when using foreign languages as that character set will consume more characters than English. Finally, automated text to natural spoken language will ensure messages are always up-to-date and relevant, without the need for studio recordings. 

Step 3. Automate patient instructions  

Patient instructions can encompass various information, such as the clinic address, the potential appointment delays, current traffic along the route in, COVID-19 safety protocols, and diagnostic test results. On the latter point, patients may need to follow protocols before their appointment, such as how to get a COVID-19 test and clearance, so clear and timely information about what to do is often necessary to avoid confusion and keep no-shows to a minimum.  

Step 4. Automate self-scheduling 

Making rescheduling as straightforward as possible can be the lynchpin for reducing no-shows, and there is a simple, effective solution. If a patient responds to an SMS reminder that they cannot make it, the system can automatically reply and provide alternative appointment times for them to select. 

Can these seemingly simple changes make an enormous difference in the enduring problem of reducing no-shows? They can! With these elements in place, you may get your no-show rate down to as low as 3 percent — for good.

Here’s an example of how one healthcare provider might benefit:  

You can estimate your own benefit from using this approach with our online no-show calculator. Give it a try to see how much you could be cutting down your no-shows — and how much money and staff time it might save you.