Sometime in the last few months, you’ve probably walked out to your mailbox and found a postcard from one health care provider, reminding you of an upcoming annual or semiannual appointment. Or perhaps you don’t receive them at all anymore, in lieu of an automated phone call reminder.
These reminders are intended to reduce “no shows.” Dr. Brian Goldman, who hosts “White Coat, Black Art” on CBC Radio, has said that 5 to 10 per cent of Canadian patients fail to attend previously scheduled medical appointments. For doctors, that’s a lot of lost revenue. For no-show patients, it could mean diminished health and not being able to see their doctor again until months later.
In cases where the patient seemingly just forgot the appointment, despite previously getting a reminder from a health care provider, Goldman suggests following up with a phone call. The patient will feel respected and cared for by the office, and he or she will understand that missed appointments do not go unnoticed. Hopefully, the patient will remember this and not miss appointments in the future.
A Reminder a Day Won’t Keep the Doctor Away
Appointment reminders are generally effective, yet trial-and-error is really the only way for an individual practice to determine the right formula. Which combination of direct mail reminders, text messages, emails and phone calls are best? In which order? Following which cadence? Should any be repeated?
In the U.S., at least, patients were less likely to miss an appointment (13.6 per cent) when they received a personal call from an office staff member than they were if they received an automated call (17.3 per cent) or no reminder at all (23.1 per cent), according to the study “The effectiveness of outpatient appointment reminder systems in reducing no-show rates.”
As doctors weigh their patient outreach options, cost is one major consideration. Offices need to consider innovative ways to stay on budget. If direct mail is part of its reminder efforts, for example, an office should consider printing its own labels with a postage meter and mailing system, which could lead to 35 percent savings on Priority Mail.
These cost savings are really just the beginning, as any reduction in the no show rate will be a financial boon for doctors. After all, they only get paid when patients actually make their appointments.
Patient preference is another factor for health care providers to consider. Think about a pediatrician’s office that is constantly communicating with younger, on-the-go parents. They may prefer text communication to a phone call, which they could miss if they aren’t home during the day. Or maybe a postcard is the best way to reach them, since 95 per cent of Canadians read their mail on the same day it arrives, according to the Canada Post.
No matter which patient base your office serves, appointment reminders are likely to be most effective when they’re part of a multichannel effort. Mail the patient to remind them of the appointment a week before, and then follow up a few days later with some electronic form of communication, whether a phone call, text message or email.
This way, you’ll catch your patients no matter where they are, and make sure you’re able to do your part in keeping them healthy.