Yes, you can have too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to sending reminder messages for appointments.
On the one hand, you want to make sure your patients get timely notifications so that they remember to show up to your office. You also want to give them ample opportunity to cancel and reschedule if they won’t be able to make it. However, bombarding patients with emails, phone calls, texts, and postcards can be annoying.
The key is to strike a balance and find the best cadence for reminder messages. In this guide, we’ll share our top tips and best practices for optimizing your patient communication, boosting your attendance rates, and providing an ideal patient experience.
Why Reminder Messages are Essential
Depending on your field and location, no-show rates can range from 5 to 30 percent. The average missed appointment can cost an office anywhere from $200 – $500. Those figures add up, and an office could be losing up to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually if these time slots don’t get filled.
Reminder and confirmation messages can decrease no-show rates dramatically, which helps your bottom line while also providing patients with better health outcomes because they are following through more consistently with care.
How to Determine the Right Cadence for Reminder Messages
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and every patient and office is unique, there are some best practices that have become a starting point for reminder messages. Start with this general approach and then adjust it to fit the needs of your patients and office. Remember, the goal of your reminder messages is to get as many customers to keep their appointments as possible, so keep fine tuning until you figure out the optimal setup for your reminder system.
A good baseline cadence goes something like this:
- Send a confirmation message as soon as the patient schedules the appointment.
- Send a reminder roughly 2 weeks in advance.
- Send a second reminder to anyone who has not yet confirmed from the first reminder two days in advance.
- Send a final reminder message the day of the appointment that says “We’re looking forward to seeing you today at _______(appointment time).
This three-part message tends to work well because it includes an immediate notification, a reminder that is close to the actual appointment date but far enough in advance for the time slot to be filled, and a final reminder that’s right before the appointment to help the patient remember that day.
Best Practices for an Ideal Patient Experience
There’s not an all-inclusive “right” way to do reminder messages, but there are certainly a lot of wrong ways! As you begin to formulate your strategy, keep the following tips in mind:
Determine Patient Preferences
One of the best ways to find out what someone wants is to ask them, and your patients are no exception. We recommend finding out their communication preferences as soon as they become patients. For example, your intake form could have a couple of questions related to this topic, including:
- How would you like us to communicate appointment reminders?
- We remind patients of their appointments via text message. Who is the best point of contact for family messages?
Once you’ve ascertained your patients’ preferences, you can enter them into your patient management system and automate the process.
Keep Your Info Up to Date
If your reminder messages are going to a defunct address or phone number, then your patient isn’t going to receive your updates. We recommend diligently keeping your patient database current and up-to-date. You can do this by having your office staff verify that their contact information is correct at each appointment.
Consider a Multimodal Approach
When you remind patients of their appointments, you have several ways to deliver your messages:
Reaching out to your patients via telephone provides a personal approach and helps you nurture the relationship while building rapport. It allows you to answer patient questions before the appointment and have a dialogue. However, it’s also the most disruptive form of communication, and patients may be hard to reach during office hours.
Over 99% of text messages are opened and read. 90% of messages read within minutes of being received. If you want to ensure your message gets seen, then texting is the ultimate communication channel. Keep in mind that it is difficult to convey tone in a text message, so take care to communicate clearly and professionally at all times.
Email is a convenient way of reaching people. Most people, especially with the advent of Internet-connected smartphones, check email regularly, and patients will be able to reference your messages easily. The downside of email is that it doesn’t always get read, and it can go to a spam filter. Plus, people tend to get dozens, if not hundreds, of emails per day, so adding to their mound could be an inconvenience.
Postcards or letters
Sending written correspondence can be helpful for people who either aren’t tech savvy or are so overwhelmed with digital messaging that a text or email could be ignored. Sending physical mail can be time-consuming for your staff and an added expense, so make sure it’s something your patients want and get value from before investing heavily.
Your patients may have expressed preferences about how they’d like to be contacted, but it’s also important to do what’s best for your practice to get results, and that often means taking a multi-faceted approach. At the very least, start with text messages (assuming your patient base has mobile phones), and then add other communication channels if it suits your practice.
The goal of appointment reminders is to increase patient show-up rates without needlessly annoying your patients with endless messages. The challenge is knowing the ideal cadence for reminder messages depending on how far in advance the patient scheduled the appointment. Finding the right balance can be tough, so we’ll give you two example strategies with explanations on why they work.
Example 1: Patient schedules their appointment 6 weeks to 6 months in advance
This scenario can be common for dental or optometrist offices where routine visits and checkups are standard. Given how far in advance the appointment has been made, it makes sense to remind the patient at least a couple of times. Otherwise, they could forget about you completely by the time their appointment date arrives.
Here’s what we suggest:
- Immediate: As soon as the appointment has been made, send a written confirmation. This could be via email or text, though as we mentioned above, a text is likely to be your best and most effective method.
- 2 weeks prior: You don’t need to send multiple messages in the interim. A monthly “hey, don’t forget your appointment is 4 months away” isn’t particularly helpful. Instead, send a quick reminder a couple of weeks before the appointment. It could be via email, text, or even a written postcard, depending on what your patient prefers and what fits best with your operations strategy and software.
- The week of the appointment: One day before, reach out again. We suggest either a voice conversation or text message to increase your chance of getting your message to the patient on time.Though a 24-hour window tends to be the standard, you could also consider sending the message 48 to 72 hours in advance instead. However, if you do elect a 72-hour notice, then you might need to add another notification 24 hours before the scheduled time. Ideally, this message should be delivered just ahead of your stated cancellation policy. For example, if you require 48-hour advance notice of a cancellation, then you should send this reminder at least 48 hours before the appointment.
- The day of the appointment: A lot can happen overnight, and you can’t count on your patients thinking of you the moment they open their eyes. An appointment reminder the day of their appointment can jar their memory and help them prioritize their schedule for the day.
Example 2: Patient schedules their appointment 1 week in advance
Let’s say it’s a Monday morning and a patient has called your office to schedule an appointment for the following Monday. Here’s a sample reminder sequence:
- Immediate: As soon as you’re off the phone, send a text or email reminder with a request for them to confirm their appointment.
- Friday morning: Since the appointment is on a Monday, Friday is the last business day before the office visit. Reaching out on this day might seem like it’s too far in advance, but it gives your patient a final opportunity to reschedule while still giving your office time to fill the time slot.
- Monday morning: The morning of the appointment is the perfect time to send a reminder. After all, your patients aren’t likely thinking of you when they first open their eyes, so reminding them that they’re due to visit your office that day can help them prioritize their schedule and make any last-minute adjustments. If you are texting, the ideal time to send this message would be around 7:30 a.m., though you can adjust it to suit your needs.
The goal is to give your patients plenty of time to arrange their day without contacting them at an unseemly hour.
As you’re mapping out the frequency of your appointment reminders, consider what you would want if you were a patient. Think about the reminders you’ve received from other offices and note what you liked and didn’t like. How many messages felt like the right amount? Did an office send you too many reminders? Or, conversely, did you feel like you weren’t reminded enough?
When you start thinking more like a patient, you’ll be able to anticipate their needs and serve them even better.