No-shows and missed appointments not only cost your practice revenue, but they also add to the workload and frustration of your office staff. Patients that don’t make it to their appointments end up delaying care, which can negatively impact their overall health and treatment outcomes.
While there are numerous reasons that patients miss appointments, including financial troubles and transportation challenges, some of the most common (and preventable) reasons can be that the patient simply forgot, or they overbooked their schedule.
Fortunately, automated appointment messages have proven to dramatically reduce patient no-shows and cancellations while also having the advantage of building brand loyalty and enhancing the overall experience with the practice. The mistake that many offices make, however, is to simply implement a technological solution without considering the needs of their individual patients. A poorly executed appointment reminder system can do more harm than good.
We’ve identified the areas where practices are vulnerable to missteps as they automate their systems, and we’ve included tips that will help you get your messages on track.
Whether you’re using an automated system like Weave or you’re reaching out to patients manually, make sure you’re not making any of these five mistakes:
Not Understanding Your Audience
According to a recent survey, 70% of patients ¹ find it helpful to receive automated message reminders. But what about the other 30%?
The 30% of people who don’t find appointment reminders helpful likely belong in one of these two categories:
- They’re exceptionally organized, and they added the appointment time to their personal calendar the minute they scheduled it. Getting a reminder from your office is the equivalent of telling your spouse to take out the trash when they’ve already emptied the bin and are headed toward the door.
- They forgot about the appointment because they had a million other things going on. Your reminder stresses them out further.
The key to success here is knowing your patients’ preferences. You can collect this data on an intake form, or the office management team can ask practice members in person how they’d like to be contacted about appointments. While most patients will appreciate the convenience of being reminded that they’re due at your office, others may prefer not to receive a text message. For them, it’s another interruption in their already hectic day.
To avoid missed and forgotten appointments, we recommend that you designate another way to communicate with patients who don’t want a text or telephone call. Email reminders can be an effective compromise, especially if you track whether or not your patient opened the email. For example, if you send a reminder email to a patient and the message doesn’t get opened, you could consider picking up the phone and making a live call to check in and make sure they’re still on track to attend their scheduled appointment. Weave’s automated appointment reminder texts save me so much time to proactively reach out and schedule past patients. I don’t leave the office without the schedule being full. -Lynn Parkinson, Hygiene Coordinator, ~Berdy Dental Group
Quicker Responses, Means Fuller Schedules
Weave’s automated appointment reminder texts save me so much time to proactively reach out and schedule past patients. I don’t leave the office without the schedule being full. -Lynn Parkinson, Hygiene Coordinator, ~Berdy Dental Group
Your appointment messages should be short and to the point. It can be tempting to provide detailed instructions or include stories or jokes to try to entertain your patients or provide a unique experience, but we suggest saving the knock-knock jokes for the office visit.
If you have special instructions that your patient needs to know about insurance, paperwork or other relevant items to bring, this ideally would have been communicated in another message. You can set these messages up with Weave as well. If you do need to provide detailed information or instructions that are longer than what you want to include, we recommend including a link to the page on your website that has all of the necessary information. That way, the patient can click on the link if they need more data, and they don’t have to read a lengthy text message.
Another issue with overly detailed messages for basic appointment reminders is that they can cause confusion among your patients and cause them to have follow-up questions that can’t be addressed easily or efficiently via text.
Remember, the purpose of the text is primarily to function as an appointment reminder, so it should be brief. A general rule of thumb is that your message should be less than 160 characters, and we typically suggest messages between 100 and 150 characters (including spaces).
The data to include in your messaging should be limited to the following:
- Reason for the appointment (optional)
- Location (if your office has multiple locations or it’s a patient’s first visit)
- A call to action, such as confirm or reschedule
Lack of Personalization
Remember, every touch point with your patients should be cordial and personal, and that includes electronic communication. Just because something is automated and viewed on a screen doesn’t mean it has to lack a personal touch.
With systems like Weave, a patient’s data can be integrated with messaging to include the patient’s name and appointment details in any correspondence. Use this to your advantage by creating an experience that makes your patient feel like he or she is a valued member of your practice.
Keep in mind that text messaging and written correspondence should mirror what happens in a real conversation. For example, would you rather be greeted with a “Hi, Sarah” or a “Hi, Valued Patient”? The second option is an immediate turnoff.
Most offices are adept at including the information about the appointment such as the date and time, but they fail to take it to the next level by addressing the patient by name and adding a conversational tone.
Here’s an example of a message that’s personal and still professional:
Hi, Sarah. This is Jenny from ABC Vision Center. Just a reminder of your appt on March 2nd at 10:30 am. Does that still work for you?
By contrast, this next message lacks warmth and feels robotic:
Hello. Please reply YES to confirm your appt at 10:30 am on March 2nd at ABC Vision Center.
Depending on your communication style, you may even want to use an emoji on occasion. If you do decide to use one, proceed with caution. If your patient’s appointment is one that requires a procedure that’s painful or extensive, they’re probably nervous, and an emoji would be inappropriate. However, if the appointment is for a routine visit, then a smiley face can add an element of warmth, especially if it matches the communication style of your front office staff.
One of the biggest missteps we’ve observed has to do with the timing of the messages. We see messages going out too far in advance, too close to the appointment time, and at times of the day that aren’t convenient for patients.
Though every practice is different, there are some general guidelines to follow that will help you time your messaging appropriately. Our recommendation is to send a reminder message for approximately 24 hours in advance. If the message is sent too early, then you risk having your patient forget about the appointment by the time the date arrives.
On the other hand, a message sent too close to the appointment date and time means that you run the risk of your patient already having forgotten about the commitment and facing a situation where they’ve overbooked. When this happens, they’re likely to cancel, leaving you with an empty time slot that’s difficult to fill at such short notice.
Another pitfall is sending messages at the wrong time of day. Again, your messages can be scheduled to avoid mistakes like sending a text or making a call late at night, during dinner, or first thing in the morning. Most people will be at least slightly annoyed if they’re woken up by a text message alert or interrupted by a ringing telephone at dinner when the non-urgent message could have easily been relayed mid-day.
Also, given that many people have their phones attached to their hand or in their pocket at all times, we also suggest avoiding texting the appointment reminders or making calls during peak commute times, such as before 9 am and after 2 pm. By eliminating those times, you’re not putting patients in a position of checking their phones while they’re driving. Ideally, schedule your appointment messages or calls to happen between 9 am and 2 pm.
You may also want to abstain from sending text messages or making appointment reminder phone calls immediately following any surgical procedure, especially if it was an eye procedure that inhibits vision for a certain number of hours or days or a dental procedure where the patient is likely to be sleeping or recovering afterward.
Another potential mistake is messaging patients too frequently. We know having a robust system with endless features is exciting but resist the urge to send daily updates or multiple reminders to the same person. If a patient has scheduled an appointment weeks or months in advance, a reminder one week before and again one day before the appointment is plenty of communication. Avoid sending weekly messages for patients who schedule months in advance.
And finally, make sure you give patients an option to opt out of your appointment reminder system. Not everyone will take the time to call your office or approach staff personally to tell them that they don’t like getting messages or receiving calls. Instead, these patients will silently seethe every time their phone beeps. By having a way for your patients to opt out of appointment message confirmations and reminders, they’ll be able to make their preferences known without an awkward confrontation.
Not Including a Call to Action
Even if you’ve managed to get everything else right, not including a call to action in your appointment message is problematic for both your patients and your office staff. The call to action (also referred to as a CTA) doesn’t have to be complicated. All it needs to do is ask your patient to take the next step to confirm or reschedule their appointment. A straightforward “text to confirm or call our office at 555.123.4567 to reschedule” will suffice.
If you fail to include instructions on what to do to confirm or cancel, your patients who can’t make their appointment are going to have to search for your phone number or email address. Some patients may reply with a text, but if you haven’t set up your system to accept incoming messages, their note will disappear into the ether.
Including a call to action isn’t just for your patients’ convenience. It helps your office staff, too. The reason is that when a patient confirms, your system will track their response (or you can make a note of it in a separate file if needed). Otherwise, you’re left simply guessing whether or not the patient is going to come to your office. Despite the fact that you know you’ve done your part to remind them, you still don’t know if they’re actually coming!
Plus, asking patients to contact you to reschedule can streamline the process, especially if you have a link to an online scheduling system. Some savvy offices schedule their text appointment messages to go out when they know they have a lull in the office workload, which increases the chances of staff being available to take calls to reschedule appointments.
At Weave, we advocate providing your patients with a VIP experience that’s tailored to their needs. Request a free live demo so Weave can show you the solutions you need to send effective and personalized patient reminders. When your practice members see a message from their office, the goal is for them to grateful that you thought of them.
When in doubt about how to proceed with your appointment messages, remember the golden rule and talk to your patients the way you would want to be spoken to. Provide them with an experience that you would like to have. By putting yourself in their shoes, you’ll be better equipped to anticipate their needs and preferences.