As health costs keep rising—both to the system and our own out-of-pocket—it’s increasingly important for each of us to do what we can to be efficient in our use of the system, to maintain the health we want and get the care we need when necessary, while not spending any more than necessary. As Solutionreach’s Lea Chatham wrote in her post here, that includes being sure you follow through reliably on appointments. And as she told in that story, it’s not just a courtesy or “oops” issue: missing a time slot can have real clinical implications, aka can cause you additional medical problems.
This is a real problem, so the solution is important, but it need not be complicated. Working on quality improvement projects in the industry, I’ve learned that one of the most dependable solutions to many problems is simply to make sure the right thing happens at the right time, by making sure everyone knows what’s supposed to happen when. Yet so often this seems a mystery in healthcare.
“Make it easier to do the right thing.”
That’s one of the aphorisms in my 2013 book, Let Patients Help, which is filled with simple advice, most of it taken from my work in other industries. The flip side of it is “Make it harder to screw up,” or “Make it less likely you’ll have to wince and slap your forehead.” Know what I mean? And yet in my speeches at conferences, I’ve so often heard people in healthcare complain that patients just aren’t responsible, can’t be counted on, etc.
Well heck, healthcare - that’s blaming the victim! One problem is that people lead busy lives, and handing them an extra task—copying an appointment card into a calendar—is making it their fault if something goes wrong. Think about Lea’s story—that appointment card disappeared in a purse full of scrunchies and life stuff. From a quality improvement perspective, it’s just not reliable to hand someone a card that turns into one more piece of work for them to do. And from the perspective of simple human caring, it’s just plain mean to make it their fault if it falls through the cracks.
To make things worse, the issue is amplified if the person has the audacity to actually develop a problem. As any medical condition becomes more serious, the stress on your life increases, which diverts energy, which makes it both harder to perform perfectly (i.e. remember things perfectly) and makes it more important to do so.
For heaven’s sake, if the doctor’s computer knows you have a computer, how hard would it be to reach out?
Ironically, my dentist offered this years before my highly computerized physician’s office did. Not only that, the dentist wisely offers any mode of reminder I want: email, text message, or phone call. (They don’t offer Facebook Messenger, but who wants Facebook in their medical business??)
Healthcare, let’s modernize. Let’s “make it easy to do the right thing,” as an extra act of kindness to stressed people and families and for the benefits to the practice in revenue and efficiency. Enable automation for appointment and recall reminders so health protocols and business plans unfold as intended.
And you know what else? The quality improvement guy in me would love to see some before-and-after data, quantifying how many missed appointments happen before and after activating such features. And the marketing guy in me would want to estimate how much non-billable time is spent on rescheduling appointments, unused exam room time, etc.
Because my hunch is—making it easy for patients also makes it easy for you.
If you'd like to know what to look for in an automated appointment reminder platform, read our free checklist, "7 Must Have Features for a Texting Solution."