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Three Tips For Encouraging Patients to Follow Up

As a busy physician, there’s nothing more stressful or frustrating than patients who miss appointments.  If your practice is anything like the average, it’s not uncommon to experience no-show rates between 5 and 10 percent.  The consequences can go beyond the impact on a patient’s health: patient no-shows can cost up to $150,000 a year in lost revenue.

Some physicians charge a nominal fee for missed appointments, a practice that has been controversial.  This system seems to cause more issues than it solves.  How much notice should patients give in order to not be charged?  How much should you charge?  And are they even effective at getting patients to cancel appointments in advance next time?

Interestingly, we discovered that the largest percentage of missed appointments occur– you guessed it!– within the 6-12 month follow up period.  With these numbers in mind, it’s easy to see that getting patients to attend follow up appointments is one area where many physicians have fallen short.

So how can you break through the barriers preventing patients from following up?

Here are a few key tips:

Send the appointment reminders your patients prefer. Robocalls, text messages, emails– with the rise of the digital patient, there are more ways than ever to reach out to your patients. Finding out how your patients prefer to be contacted helps increase the effectiveness of appointment reminders. If a patient rarely checks email but is glued to their phone, a text message or phone call from a staff member might be the better option.

Book patients as soon as possible. The average wait time for a medical appointment is currently around nineteen days. Scheduling appointments too far in advance not only results in patients forgetting about them, but also can result in frustration. This holds true for follow up appointments as well– if you need a patient to follow up within a month, try to find an appointment time as close to a month away as possible.

Consider offering a secure, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing system. Work/family conflicts and transportation issues are two big reasons why patients miss appointments. By enabling patients to attend their appointments virtually from anywhere, regardless of a broken down car or a work meeting that can’t be moved, you should be able to reduce the number of no-shows and recoup some lost revenue.

But what do patients think of virtual follow up visits? Just check out this recent study of neurological patients at a New Mexico-based VA medical center for the answer.  When patients were asked about their experience using telemedicine for follow up appointments, 90 percent responded that they were “fully satisfied” with their virtual medical visit. It’s time to consider how telemedicine can be used in your practice to make follow ups easier for patients and providers. What are some strategies you’ve used to encourage patients to attend follow up appointments?


Additional Resources

Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), “30 ways to reduce patient no-shows

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