Best Practices for Sending Reminder Messages to Elderly Patients
Even though about 95% of Americans have a mobile phone, when you look at the senior demographic, that number is far less.
If you plan on sending reminder messages to elderly patients, you can’t assume that your patients have a cell phone. And, even if they do own one, they might not be keen to use it for everyday life, including appointment reminders.
However, your elderly patients might need your services the most, and they could be the most at risk for missing an appointment, especially if they’re prone to forgetfulness.
We’ll share our top tips for implementing a reminder system that works that blends both high-tech and low-tech solutions.
Inquire about Their Technology
A recent Pew Research Center study found that 85% of seniors ages 65 and above own a cell phone. This number continues to rise as cell phones become more ubiquitous, and the technology becomes less expensive and easier to use.
However, only about half of the 85% mentioned above used a smartphone, while the other half used a more basic model. The good news is that even a simple cell phone can receive a text message, so your text reminder strategy can still work for the vast majority of your patients, even the elderly.
The first step in implementing any reminder message system is to ask your patients if they have a mobile phone, find out if they use it regularly, and ask if they want to receive text message appointment reminders. The answers may surprise you. Some patients may readily embrace a technology-driven system, while others will request that you remind them with a phone call or a mailer.
Ask for Preferences
Unlike Millennials and Gen-Xers and younger Baby Boomers, the older portion of the Baby Boomer generation isn’t as likely to carry their cell phone with them everywhere they go. Their phones may be tucked away for specific uses like chatting with loved ones or calling for assistance. If you send a text or call to patients with this habit, the message is less likely to be seen when it matters.
When you ask your patients about the technology they use, also inquire about how they use it.
Ask questions such as the following:
- How often do you check your cell phone?
- Do you use your phone for texting, calling, or both?
- Would you prefer to receive text messages from us or telephone calls?
- Are there any days of the week or times of the day when you don’t want to hear from us?
If you help your patients understand that you are genuinely trying to assist them with their care, and they’ll be more understanding of what you are trying to accomplish by sending reminder messages.
Send Messages to Family Members and Caregivers
If your elderly patients don’t handle their own transportation or they have a caregiver assisting them with their daily activities, sending reminder messages to other people involved in your patient’s lives might be prudent.
When you ensure that caregivers are in the loop, then you have a better chance of the patient showing up. For example, your patient Mary might have a flawless memory, and she’s committed to making it to her appointment. She received her reminder text and confirmed her appointment with your staff.
The only issue is that Mary doesn’t drive, and she relies on a part-time aid to drive her to and from her appointments. The assistant has Mary’s schedule, but she also cares for a couple of other people, and sometimes she’s pulled in multiple directions. However, if she knows that Mary has an appointment with your office because she received a reminder about it, then she’ll be able to adjust her schedule to ensure that she can take Mary to the appointment.
Tip: When you are getting your patients’ contact information for your patient management system, ask your patients to provide contact information for immediate local family members and caregivers.
Increase the Frequency
It’s easy to forget about an appointment, especially if it’s been scheduled far in advance and you’re busy (or forgetful). Elderly patients are more likely to have their appointments booked farther ahead of time, so it’s also helpful to increase the frequency of the reminders. If the patient becomes ill, hospitalized, has other commitments or needs to arrange for alternate transportation, they (or their caregiver) will be able to notify your office in a timely manner.
Same day reminders are also a good idea to implement. Sending a reminder first thing in the morning can help them plan their day accordingly in case they forgot, or their morning didn’t start as planned.
For example, you could send a text that goes something like this:
“Good morning, Mary! We are looking forward to seeing you today at Sharp Eye Associates at 11:00 a.m. If you need to reschedule, please call our office at 951.345.6732.”
A similar message could be sent to Mary’s caregiver. You could also consider including a link in the message that has a map with directions to your office, especially if the caregiver is unfamiliar with your location.
Tip: If you need to speak directly with the patient about something, it’s a good idea to call, but you should make it clear that they don’t need to call you to confirm (unless you want them to). If your patient demographic is heavily concentrated with the elderly, then you may be opening your staff up to a deluge of phone calls that last longer than average. To keep your office running like a well-oiled machine, encourage phone calls only when necessary to assist a patient or reschedule an appointment.
Staff Can Offer to Program the Calendar
Even the most tech-savvy individuals are sometimes surprised by the features of their cell phone. So, it should be no surprise that many of your elderly patients won’t know how to set up their mobile phone’s calendar to provide alerts.
When your elderly patients are in your office scheduling their next appointment, offer to program the date into their phone. Set up alerts to remind the patient of their commitment. Depending on the type of phone they have you can set up to 9 reminders starting with 1 week before and going all the way up to when they are due in your office.
You can even add travel time to the appointment time, so the patient can schedule their day more accurately and account for time spent on the road.
Another option with several mobile phone calendars is the ability to invite patient contacts. Again, if the patient has a caregiver who assists them with their daily life or transportation, then you can set up the patient’s calendar so that this person also gets an alert on their phone.
Provide Appointment Cards
Not all of your patients will be able or willing to send reminder messages, so don’t feel like you have to force the issue. Appointment cards might be considered “old school,” but they’re still one of the most effective ways to remind people of their schedule.
You most likely already have appointment cards in your office, so you’ll be able to provide them readily. Your staff can fill out the name of the patient and the date and time of the appointment while instructing the patient to hold onto the card and reference it when needed.
The patient can keep this information in their wallet for easy access or display it somewhere prominent in their home to help them remember. On their refrigerator, by the front door or even next to a pill cupboard will help keep the appointment top of mind for those who don’t wish to receive texts or phone calls.
Appointment cards don’t necessarily have to replace reminder messages, though. You could consider giving them to all of your patients as an added insurance policy and continue with your high-tech reminder system as scheduled.
Another best practice is to send postcards in the mail reminding patients of an appointment. While this might be overkill for your younger demographic, your elderly patients are likely to appreciate this gesture. Not only does it help them remember their scheduled appointment, but it also provides another touchpoint that can strengthen the relationship the patient has with your office.
We encourage you to personalize the postcards by having your office manager sign his or her name. You can also include a map on one side, so that it’s easy for your patient to find your office, especially if they are relying on another person for transportation.
You might have to make some adjustments to your patient reminder messaging system for elderly patients, but you might be surprised by how tech savvy some of your older patients are. Just like with any patient, regardless of age, make sure you ask them about their preferences and how they’d like to be contacted.
By respecting their wishes, you’ll be able to strengthen the relationship with your patients while also boosting show up rates and increasing the likelihood of better health outcomes.