The average no-show rate for healthcare practices, across all specialties, is nearly 20 percent. Ouch. Even the best performing practices often have no-show rates of 7-9 percent. It's no wonder the idea of creating an effective no-show policy is a topic which generates a great deal of discussion among healthcare providers. What is the best way to handle patients who fail to appear? Is there one right way to do things? Do the circumstances of the no-show matter? How do you create a no-show policy that will encourage patients to show up without scaring them off?
This challenging subject often brings out angry and frustrated responses from otherwise calm and happy providers. So what is the answer to this no-show policy conundrum?
Finding a No-Show Policy that Works for YOU
Ideas and discussion on no-show policies vary based on individual practices. In general, the no-show policy you select and its effectiveness are directly related to your patient base. If your no-show policy and your specific patients do not go well together, you may lose patients.
Patients who are already worried about finances may choose to find a new provider, regardless of the length of their relationship with you, rather than pay an additional fee. A “three strikes” policy may also not be in your best interest as it means you are voluntarily increasing your attrition rate. So, is there a happy medium?
4 No-Show Policies that Won't Scare Off Patients
Many practices are trying a variety of no-show policies in order to discourage no-shows and recognize patients who arrive on time to appointments. Here are a few examples of no-show policies that work:
1. Straight fee—This is the most commonly used no-show policy. Each time a patient misses an appointment (or is a certain number of minutes late for that appointment), they are charged a fee.
2. Fee, erased upon return—When a patient no-shows, a small fee is added to their bill. The fee is removed once the appointment is rescheduled and the patient arrives on time.
3. Reward policy—Other practices are trying to reward patients for keeping their appointments and coming on time. Each week, patients who’ve kept their appointment are entered into a drawing for a gift card or other reward.
4. Detention policy—Several practices have also tried a “detention” policy. Patients who miss an appointment are required to attend a 30 minute session at the practice that focuses on healthcare issues and the importance of keeping their appointments. Only after completing the session are they allowed to reschedule their appointment. While it may seem that extra time or resources devoted to a patient who no-showed is counter-intuitive, many providers see this as a way to improve communication and goodwill with patients.
And the best no-show policy? Stop no-shows before they happen
In order to avoid no-shows, it is important that practices understand the reasoning behind missed appointments. Some patients are fearful, while others are concerned with their finances. Some patients suffer a last-minute complication, some don’t have reliable transportation, and still others over-book their schedule or simply forget (You can read any of those old blog posts to learn more about why patients miss appointments).
Take a look, also, at the time patients spend in your waiting area. Patients who arrive on time and have to wait more than a few minutes will quickly tire of that wasted time. It doesn’t fool them, either, to be ushered to a treatment area and have to wait there. Look at your office efficiency to see if it may be contributing to patients not valuing your time. If you want to know more about reducing wait times in your practice, read this post.
There may be circumstances that your own practice is creating which cause no-show appointments as well. If your office frequently reschedules appointments, your patients may feel that appointment times are not that important. Another consideration is your appointment wait time, or how far out from when a patient calls it is before they can get an appointment. If your patients are having to wait two or three months between when they call your office and when they are actually seen, they may choose to find another provider who can see them sooner.
Finally, make sure you are consistently reminding patients about upcoming appointments. Studies show that no-show reminders can reduce no-show by 50 percent or more.
It’s worth trying different techniques to find the policy and approach that works best with your patients and your practice. Whichever you settle on, be certain that your policy is provided in writing for your patients to sign either digitally or in person. By keeping an open mind and looking for alternatives better suited to your needs and the needs of your patient, you can begin bringing down the no-show numbers in your practice and building healthier relationships with your patients.
For more information on preventing no-shows, read our free guide, "No Shows No More."