Go beyond appointment reminders with optimized appointment-related messaging

Patient communication has developed at a rapid pace in the last decade, from hand-written appointment cards to instant, personalized appointment reminders that confirm, reschedule, or cancel with behind-the-scenes automation. In fact, appointment-related communication is the most common type of communication in use by providers today, whether it be by text, email, automated call, or human call. According to a recent Medical Management Group Association (MGMA) survey, three of every four providers are already texting patients to remind and confirm appointments. 

However, the survey also found that while this communication is common, it is rarely optimized to improve efficiency, lower no-show rates, and streamline operations. Over half of respondents still use staff to make individual appointment confirmation calls, while nearly half use staff to call for appointment reminders. 

Provider groups and health systems can take patient engagement strategy forward by optimizing the messaging cadence and expanding actions that can be taken via appointment reminders, such as cancelling or rescheduling. 

Elevate appointment-related messaging from mass blast to personalized and actionable communication 

By changing the frequency, messaging channel, and what actions can be taken via appointment-related communication, provider groups can begin to balance operational demand on staff with ease of scheduling. There are foundational steps to take to ensure the messages will be both received and understood by a patient population. These include: 

1. Knowing your patients’ communication preferences 

Messages are more likely to be read when they are delivered where a patient indicates they are looking during breaks in their day—a cell phone, an email address, a voicemail box. Asking for preferences during the patient intake process forms the basis for a seamless communication program. 

2. Giving patients an easy way to access or respond accordingly  

The MGMA survey found only 64% of providers provide patients with a method or direction for next steps in their appointment-related messaging, such as a phone number to call if the appointment time no longer works. Without an automation to enable a patient to directly reschedule themselves online, the message itself becomes a factor that drives up call volume, no shows, call abandonment, and wait times to both speak to a staff member and see a physician. Adopting two-way texting, chatbots, and self-service options allow for inbound communication to relieve the burden on phone lines. 

3.  Offering 24/7 online options for cancellations or rescheduling  

Patients and providers both fit their schedules into a standard nine-to-five day. Coffee breaks and lunchtime may see more phone calls surging to the front desk as patients scramble to call back and reschedule or cancel their appointments with their limited timeframe. This shifts the burden of appointment management to the shoulders of a patient, who does not have enough access to adequately manage their schedule. Provider groups who offer inbound channels and self-service options let patients self-manage their care from the convenience of their own device, when they have the time to do so. 

4. Implementing a 5-3-1-day cadence 

A common strategy to reduce costly gaps in the schedule caused by no-shows is to use a 5-3-1 communication method to space out reminders and give patients ample time to confirm, reschedule, or cancel. This may be a text five days prior to an appointment, an email three days prior, and then a phone call one day prior. By changing the time and modality, patients are more likely to receive the message and respond accordingly. 

Appointment-related messaging is one component of a successful patient engagement strategy 

The first outbound communication to a new patient is the appointment reminder they receive from a clinic; however, over time, more and varied communication initiatives will be needed to address: 

  • Patient retention 
  • Condition management 
  • Specific health campaigns 
  • Emergency communication 
  • Bill-pay options 
  • Reputation management 
  • Commonly asked questions, such as prescription refills, diagnostic result delivery, and any questions patients may need answered across a continuum of care 

Read more about provider-patient communication best practices in The Comprehensive Guide to Better Patient Communication and Engagement