7 Best Practices to Reduce Missed Appointments

Laura Dyrda -  
Patient Prompt, a company developing customized automated appointment reminder systems, conducted a six-year study examining more than one million internal reminders on the most effective practice protocol for making appointment reminder calls to patients. Here Claude Waknine, director of business development at Patient Prompt, discusses seven best practices for successful appointment calls and confirmation rates, all of which the Patient Prompt technology utilizes.

1. Offer patients notification options.
Today's patients lead busy lives and many are reliant on mobile communications. Depending on the patient's age and preference, practices can receive a higher rate of successful confirmations by utilizing HIPAA compliant forms of e-mailing or text messages reminding patients about appointments. Successful confirmations occur with a telephone when the patient is instructed to "press one" to confirm their appointment time and does so. Patients reply to text and e-mail messages to confirm their appointments. Younger patients often prefer to receive the reminders via e-mail and text message as opposed to telephone calls.

Additionally, it is important to offer reminder messages in a variety of languages that reflect your community. The Patient Prompt system has messages programmed in 25 languages.

2. Record a human voice.
Patients often hang up on automated voice messages when a text to speech voice is substituted for a human voice, says Mr. Waknine. If a human voice is on the other end, patients are more likely to listen to the entire message and confirm their appointment. Depending on the demographics, different types of voices have higher patient response rates. For instance, older patients responds better to male voices while younger patients respond better to female voices, which is why Patient Prompt hires voice actors.

3. Coordinate confirmations with scheduling systems.
When a patient does listen to the appointment reminder and confirms the appointment, the practice should be able to immediately populate their schedule with that appointment confirmation. Physicians and practice employees should use a method  that can immediately post results to their calendar and identify the gaps in the appointment schedule and fill them quickly. "When an appointment is set out, Patient Prompt populates the scheduling system in real time," says Mr. Waknine. "The technology connects with the existing scheduling system automatically."

4. Contact patients quickly if the physician needs to reschedule. If an orthopedic physician is stuck in emergency surgery, he or she may need to reschedule the regular appointments for the day. Mr. Waknine suggests practices contact the patients who need to reschedule within 15 minutes of the cancellation (before the patient would arrive at the practice). Coupled with the real-time electronic scheduling, practice staff can identify gaps and schedule appointments quickly. This saves time for the patient and the practice.

5. Record the last time a patient was successfully reached.
Practices should record the time and day when an appointment reminder is successfully reached and confirmed, says Mr. Waknine, so the next time a patient needs a reminder call, the practice can send the call at the same time. Sending the call on a day and time that was previously convenient for the patient increases the confirmation rate. "This way, the practice staff doesn't have to try to reach patients all day," says Mr. Waknine. "That's a big money saver for practices. Orthopedic practices using old technology usually take five to seven attempts to successfully reach patients. By utilizing this memory system, Patient Prompt successfully reaches patents on average in 1 ½ attempts."

This "Smart Calling Technology" was developed after years of research and developments and represents the next generation in patient communication technology, says Mr. Waknine.

6. Push through busy signals.
For the best results, appointment reminder calls should continue ringing when they reach a patient who is on the other line, and wait until the line is free. If the system can recognize when the call receives a busy signal and stay on the line instead of hanging up, the patient has a better chance of receiving the call. This reduces the workload for practice staff.

7. Identify protocol in messages.
For some patient visits, protocol requires them to have specific information available at the practice. Mr. Waknine says that if the automated message is tailored to instruct these patients on appropriate protocol, they are more likely to have this information available at their appointment. Research the labor costs for appointment reminder calls, the current no-show rate, rate of missed or cancelled appointments and investigate the technologies that can decrease these numbers.

Learn more about Patient Prompt.

Read other coverage on improving orthopedic practice management:

- 10 Articles to Improve Orthopedic and Spine Practice Coding

- 6 Best Practices for Implementing an Effective Infection Control Program

- 4 Technologies to Improve Orthopedic Practice Revenue Cycle Management

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