The no-show patient is the bane of every healthcare provider. You and your staff plan your day around scheduled appointments, preparing for exams or procedures, only to have your schedule thwarted by a patient who fails to appear. It’s frustrating and it’s expensive. One estimate puts the average rate of no-shows around 12 percent, with some practices experiencing as much as 50 percent each day. If you are wondering about the averages for your particular specialty, check out our handy-dandy calculator here.
Despite the feeling that no-shows are an inevitable aspect of running your practice, there are things you can do to hold back the waters. For starters, it helps to be educated about why patients fail to show.I Don’t Have the Money
Finances are a big reason why patients fail to keep an appointment. In these difficult economic times, some of your patients may be faced with challenging decisions about the best use of their limited financial resources. For some of them, it might literally mean choosing between keeping your appointment and feeding their family that night.
While discussing money is a challenge, it is in the best interest of your practice and your patient to have an honest conversation about costs associated with your patient’s care. Offering options such as financing and payment plans can help alleviate the stress your patient feels about the cost of their care and can encourage them to keep scheduled appointments.
Patients who don’t understand the care or treatment you are recommending may become so afraid they opt to no-show. Patients who are elderly or whose first language is not your language are especially at risk for this, but any patient can be frightened by a lack of understanding. Dentophobia (fear of dentists and dental care) and Iatrophobia (fear of doctors) are extreme versions of this, but even your average patient can experience anxiety if they don’t understand what’s about to happen or what you’re recommending.
As you speak to your patients, even if you consider the topic to be routine, remember that they don’t have the same familiarity with the subject that you have. Rather than asking, “Do you understand?” ask the patient to explain the information to you so you can gauge their level of comprehension. Look for opportunities to provide supplemental information to patients in secure and convenient ways. When patients feel that they are knowledgeable about their condition or treatment, they can make informed decisions about their care.
Often patients no-show because they overbooked themselves and either didn’t see or didn’t remember their appointment. In this hectic day and age, many of your patients are running to and from work, school, kids’ activities, family appointments, and more. On occasion, they may forget an appointment that was scheduled weeks or even months before.
Providing an automated reminder service will help reduce the number of no-shows for patients who are overbooked or who may have forgotten about their appointment. Automated reminders save you time over manual phone calls, freeing up your office staff for more important office tasks and responsibilities. This service saves money over expensive postcard reminders which can get lost in the mail, arrive too late, or get buried under the myriad papers stuck on the refrigerator door.
I Can’t Get There
Many patients lack a source of transportation. They may rely on public transit, or on the goodwill of family or friends. If a bus is late or the source of their ride has complications, your patient can be stranded with no means of keeping their appointment. As frustrating as it is for you and your practice, it is just as frustrating for your patient. Most patients want to keep their appointments, but being stranded without reliable transportation isn’t something they can control.
When patients schedule an appointment with your office, especially a patient who is elderly or disabled, it’s important to confirm that they have a means of keeping the appointment. Many practices now offer their patients a ride-sharing option such as Uber to help ensure their patients have a safe and reliable means of getting to and from appointments. This simple option can reduce no-shows significantly without any added cost to your practice.
A Little Understanding Goes a Long Way
When you understand what causes your patients to no-show, you can take proactive measures to help reduce or eliminate the cause. These same steps can help you strengthen relationships with your patients, improving patient relationship management and reducing the risk of attrition. For more information on no-shows and how to prevent them, you may want to read "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Reducing No-Shows and Cancellations in Your Practice."