When patients miss their appointments, it’s really a no-win situation for everyone involved. The healthcare provider loses time and revenue, staff members are forced to play phone tag with the patient, and the patient loses an opportunity to get the treatment they need. This is where phone appointment reminders are crucial.
If you are a healthcare provider missed appointments can be frustrating, fortunately there are several ways to reduce the number of missed appointments that occur each week. Appointment reminders are a critical strategy to medical practices, hospitals, and health systems who are looking to keep patient no-shows and last-minutes cancelations minimal, reduce costs, drive efficiency, and deliver a better patient experience. Phone appointment reminders are a key component of this strategy yet are often overlooked in favor of single channel strategies that only utilize text or email. The combination of phone appointment reminders with both text and email reminders creates a more effective, cohesive strategy that accounts for all patient demographics and behaviors.
Let’s talk about what a phone appointment reminder is, some best practices to implement, and the benefits of using this strategy.
What Is a Phone Appointment Reminder?
Simply put, a phone appointment reminder is when a human (or automated system) reaches out to a patient over the phone and reminds him or her of an upcoming appointment. Phone reminders are the “traditional” way to help patients recall the appointments they’ve made.
As an example, a doctor’s office may call a patient one week before the scheduled appointment. If the patient doesn’t answer, the office will leave a concise message. If the office utilizes automated phone appointment reminders, the patient should have the option to confirm, cancel, or request to reschedule using specific directions given during the recorded call. The objective of the reminder is, of course, to bring the appointment back to mind in case the patient forgot about it.
Why Call Reminders Still Matter
Phone appointment reminders still matter because people are more and more distracted with the pressures of daily life and information overload makes it easier than ever for patients to forget things. In fact, scientists estimate that the attention span of the average adult has decreased by about 12 minutes over the past decade; and poor memory is a close cousin to short attention spans.
The unique characteristics of your practice may mean that call reminders are especially vital for a streamlined workflow. For example, consider the three following factors:
- How long do you keep your schedule open? It should come as no surprise that the further out an appointment is, the more likely a patient will forget about it. If you schedule appointments several months out, then a phone appointment reminder (or perhaps multiple reminders) will help you to avoid a lot of the frustration that comes with no-shows.
- How long will a patient have to wait for an appointment if they call today? If it’s difficult for patients to secure an appointment with your practice, then you’ll likely need to send out initial appointment reminders sooner rather than later. The advantage of pushing the reminder out a week or more is that your staff can identify patients who need to cancel and reschedule, and then fill in those appointment slots with other patients who need to be seen as soon as possible.
- How much time does your staff need to fill an empty slot? If rescheduling patients is part of your staff’s day-to-day routine, this may not be a big issue. On the other hand, if you’re running a “skeleton crew,” are dealing with employee turnover, or operate a practice with a highly specialized schedule, then it may take quite a bit of time and effort to fill a vacant appointment slot. Here again, an early call reminder can prove to be an invaluable asset.
The Best Practices of Using Phone Appointment Reminders
There are several best practices that you can implement to make your appointment reminders as effective as possible. These include the following suggestions:
Rely on Automated Reminders
Some surveys have found that medical staff in a medium-sized healthcare practice may spend between 2 to 3 hours per day on calling patients for their appointment reminders. Of course, handling this routine task takes their attention away from other pressing matters. Manual phone appointment reminders are also unreliable—if staffing is short on a given day or someone calls in sick, it’s likely reminders calls won’t get made that day and no-shows could increase as a direct result. In contrast, setting up an automated system lifts this burden from your staff—driving higher productivity and freeing staff for more skilled tasks that can’t be replaced with automation.
Use Voicemails Over Direct Call
Many providers have found that it’s more effective to leave voicemails with patients than focus on direct calls. This practice is not only efficient, but also ensures that staff members won’t get tied up by those gregarious patients who love to talk over the phone — even when there’s no need.
Call Reminders Shouldn’t Be Too Lengthy
Most people tend to stop listening to phone messages after about 45 seconds. Therefore, it’s vital to keep your reminder short and to-the-point.
Request a Response
This is a great way to turn an appointment reminder into an appointment confirmation. Of course, not all patients will respond. However, those who do will help your practice to run more smoothly.
Use Phone Appointment Reminders with Text and Email Reminders, too
The power of your appointment reminder strategy comes from understanding patient behaviors across different demographics and using a combined strategy to account for them all. The combination of phone, text, and email reminders not only keeps a patient’s appointment information top of mind but each message delivered via one channel validates other messages delivered using alternate channels. Using multiple reminders, delivered in more than one way, drives higher confirmation rates and better patient engagement. (Check out this complete guide to patient outreach here.)
Focus on Your Goals
When developing your appointment reminder system, remember to keep your key goals in mind. These may include:
- Reducing the number of no-shows
- Streamlining your scheduling process
- Encouraging patients to cancel when they can’t make an appointment
- Decreasing the workload on your staff
Use an Integrated Solution
There are software solutions available that not only automate the appointment reminder process, but also integrate it into your electronic health record and scheduling system. A fully integrated platform can effectively eliminate phone tag—which will be a huge relief for your staff members!
When to Call
No matter what type of phone appointment reminder system you decide to use, it is generally best to call one day prior to the appointment. Of course, you also want to call within normal business hours. Absolutely avoid calling early in the morning (before 9:00 a.m.) and late at night (any time after 8:00 p.m.).
The Benefits of Using Automated Phone Call Reminders
As mentioned previously, using an automated appointment reminder system can be an excellent way to streamline your confirmation and rescheduling process. Here are some key advantages of using automated call reminders:
- Improved client satisfaction. Sticking to a consistent call reminder process demonstrates your professionalism and reliability. Knowing that patients are coming can also help you to provide them with the best possible experience. An automated platform allows you to accomplish both of these goals.
- Increased customer engagement. Call reminders offer one avenue for “training” your patients to proactively confirm or cancel their appointments in a timely manner. It also provides another touch point between your office and your patients that can be leveraged to increase their engagement, should you choose to do so (for instance, including a brief satisfaction survey at the end of the phone message).
- Maximized revenue. When you know in advance which patients are coming (and which ones aren’t), you’ll be able to keep your appointment schedule full each and every day. An automated system can provide you with an early notice of any cancellations. As a result, your staff will be able to fill those vacant slots (with new or existing customers), and your practice will maintain a steady, optimized stream of revenue.
5 Sample Patient Phone Call Reminder Scripts to Use
A phone appointment reminder is only as good as the script it uses. With that in mind, here are 5 example scripts that can help you to develop the best possible message for your patients, and their voicemails:
Example Script #1 (With Confirm and Cancel Options):
“Hello, this is Poplar Street Medical calling to remind you of your upcoming appointment at our North Office with Dr. Brown. This appointment is for Kyle on Friday, June 18th, at 3:30 p.m. To confirm this appointment, please press 1. If you need to reschedule, please press 2. Thank you! “
Example Script #2 (Standard Answering Machine Message):
“Hello, this is Poplar Street Medical calling to confirm an appointment for Kyle Jones on Friday, June 18th, at 3:30 p.m. with Dr. Brown. If you need to reschedule your appointment, please contact us during normal business hours at 800.555.5555. Thank you!”
Example Script #3 (For Multiple Appointments):
“Hello, this is Poplar Street Medical calling to confirm multiple appointments for Kyle and Jennifer Jones on Friday, June 18th at 3:30 p.m. Please select one of the following options:
To confirm these appointments, please press 1.
[Thank you for your confirmation. We look forward to seeing you. Good-bye.]
To repeat this message, please press 2.
Cancel these appointments, please press 3.
[Your appointments have been canceled. Please reschedule your appointments by calling us at 888.555.5555. Thank you.]”
Example Script #4 (For Recall):
“Hello, this is Poplar Street Medical calling to remind Kyle that it is time to schedule your next appointment with us. To schedule an appointment with one of our staff members, please press 1. To repeat this message, please press 2.”
Example Script #5 (For Recall On an Answering Machine):
“Hello, this is Poplar Street Medical calling to remind Kyle that it is time to schedule your next appointment with us. Please reach out to our office at 888.555.5555 to speak to one of our staff members. Thank you!”
In summary, phone appointment reminders are an invaluable tool to avoid the frustration of no-shows, ease the workload on your staff, and streamline your scheduling and cancellation process. By utilizing an automated system and developing brief scripts for different situations, you’ll be able to leverage appointment reminders for maximum effect—and enjoy many benefits as a result.