Patient no-shows

6 strategies to prevent cancellations & no-shows

Last-minute cancellations & patient no-shows impact every medical practice, regardless of speciality, location, or cost of consultation. While it’s relatively common, it’s still incredibly frustrating when, after scheduling & prepping for an appointment, a patient doesn’t show up or cancels at the eleventh hour. Aside from wasted time & unnecessary gaps in your appointment bookings, no-shows & cancellations are lost revenue – a loss that will add up if you don’t have strategies in place designed to reduce missed appointments. 

Before looking at ways you can prevent no-shows & cancellations, it’s important to acknowledge the reasons why patients fail to show up for appointments. Excuses like traffic, unexpected delays or double bookings are often rooted in what’s been called the 3 Fs: finances, fear, or forgetting.

1. Finances. Money is the most common reason patients don’t arrive for their scheduled appointment. It’s often just easier & less embarrassing to not show up then to call to cancel & potentially have to explain that they can’t afford the consultation. No one likes to talk about money but for the sake of your patients & your practice, a conversation about money needs to be had from the time of booking the consultation. Train your staff to be open & transparent with patients about fees, which medical aids you accept & your payment policy. A frank but kind conversation might mean that some patients will not book an appointment, but at least you will know upfront & won’t waste time & effort on a booking that would have been a no-show or last-minute cancellation. 

2. Fear. Fear is a very real reason why some patients don’t show up. Worrying about getting bad news or the shame & embarrassment of not following doctor’s orders or putting off procedures can be difficult to explain. Some patients would prefer to avoid the conversation altogether than face their fear. It’s also worth being cognisant of the fact that as patients age, procedures such as colonoscopies, glaucoma screenings, or tooth extraction can cause moderate to severe anxiety. What is important is that you address healthcare-related fears with education. Offer credible information on your digital channels & in your waiting room, build a relationship of trust – let them know that you are there for them & insofar as possible, be a calm, trusted health partner in a chaotic storm of Google diagnoses & frightening stories.  

3. Forgetting. Patients have busy lives. They are almost always overscheduled & rushing to meet responsibilities & make appointments.  It’s easy to forget an appointment, especially if it’s outside of their normal routine. Bear this in mind when designing your strategy to reduce no-shows & cancellations. 

So, there you have it, the 3Fs for why patients don’t arrive for their appointment. It’s important to note that these are factors largely outside of your control & therefore, no shows & cancellations are something that all medical practices will deal with. Fortunately, there are some best practices that are simple & effective in reducing the number of no-shows & the risk to your bottom line. 

1. Send reminders

Practices are more likely to reach patients via SMS or email than on via a phone call. Courtesy calls are never a bad idea, but it takes up staff time & resources. Send automated appointment reminders quickly & easily to help patients remember their appointment. For help on how to create the perfect message, click here

2. Enable Telehealth consultations

Time off work, difficulty finding childcare, sitting in traffic – these are all very real reasons why patients don’t make it to your practice. If getting to your practice is a legitimate challenge for some patients, offer telehealth consultations so that you can still provide care, regardless of proximity. 

3. Have a cancellation policy

The jury is still out as to whether it’s a good idea to charge a fee for no-shows & late cancelations. Having a cancellation policy can practically eliminate the impact of missed appointments on your revenue, but on the other hand it might result in a high turnover of patients. Whether you charge for no shows or not, every practice should have a cancellation policy in place that clearly states the penalties for late cancellations & no shows. Patients need to read & sign a hard copy of your policy that includes the acceptable notification period should a patient need to cancel or reschedule.  

4. Reduce wait times

If patients have had real-world challenges to make it to your practice, long waiting times can exasperate an already tense, rushed patient. Keep waiting times to a minimum & when that is not possible, respect your patient’s time by sending out communication to make patients aware that appointments are running behind schedule & waiting times are longer.  If you respect your patients’ time, they are more likely to respect yours.

5. Follow-up after a cancellation or no-show

Reaching out to patients who’ve missed appointments is beneficial for two reasons: one, they have the opportunity to reschedule so that they don’t fall behind on their treatment plan & two, your staff might start to notice trends or even processing errors that could be addressed to reduce no shows.

6. Identify patients who regularly miss appointments

It’s a good idea to keep track of no-shows & cancellations to identify patients who routinely don’t arrive. The idea is not to necessarily penalise the patient, but you could find out more about what is keeping them from making their appointments & offer a solution. If in extreme cases, you find yourself dealing with a patient who has acknowledged your cancellation policy & doesn’t have a legitimate reason for habitually missing appointments, you have the option to discharge the patient from your practice. 

By implementing these 6 practical steps you will not only be reducing no-shows & cancellations, but you will be minimising loss of practice revenue. For more information about how you can run your best practice, click here and one of our skilled Business Consultants will gladly assist.


Disclaimer: The information provided is general in nature & should not be considered professional advice. In all cases, you should consult with professional advisors familiar with your particular situation before making business, legal or any other decisions.

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