How to Move to Automated Reminders with a Mature Patient Base

Elderly Person Receiving Automated Reminder

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Change is inevitable, but so is people’s resistance to it.

 

Many of us fear or resist change because it brings uncertainty, lack of control, and can even be perceived as a threat. If you have a mature patient base that’s used to doing things a specific way, then the thought of an automated reminder system can induce panic, fear, and even resentment.

 

Despite patients’ trepidation about moving to an automated system, you shouldn’t let a few detractors discourage you from making progress, especially if it means better outcomes for your patients. For example, if a patient misses an appointment because they forgot, it can delay care, break up the momentum in a treatment plan, and potentially have adverse effects on their health.

 

In this guide, we’ll share best practices from migrating from a manual reminder system to one that is automated.

 

Elderly Patients are at Higher Risk for Missed Appointments

 

No-show rates for appointments are estimated at 5 to 30 percent. Not only is a missed appointment less than ideal for a patient, but it can also hurt a business’s bottom line. Not to mention the hassle and inefficiencies that your office staff will have to manage!

 

It can be hard enough to make it to an appointment even under the best of circumstances, but elderly patients face additional challenges and are at higher risk for missing an appointment.

 

Some of these factors include:

 

  • Declining memory
  • Transportation barriers
  • Increased frequency of illness

 

To boost show-up rates and get a handle on cancellations, reminder and confirmation messages can help combat the issue of declining memory. Having a formal reminder system can also help elderly patients plan better and ensure that they have arranged for transportation or have a convenient way to cancel in the event of an illness.

 

How to Convince Elderly Patients to Embrace Automated Reminders

 

A younger, tech-savvy demographic probably won’t even notice a shift from postcard or telephone reminders to automated reminders. If anything, they’ll welcome the change and appreciate the convenience of getting a text message about their appointment.

 

Your elderly patients, however, are likely going to require some handholding and potentially some training on how to adjust to your new procedures.

 

Here are some steps you can take to ease the transition.

 

Do a Survey to Find out Objections

 

Before making any procedural changes, we recommend finding out if your patients will react positively or negatively. To get an idea of their sentiment, you can survey your patients either at their appointment or over the telephone. The goal is to find out how they would feel about an automated reminder system and what objections they would have to you implementing one.

 

Sample questions include:

 

  1. How would you prefer to be reminded of your appointments? (Select all that apply.)
    1. A telephone call
    2. Text message
    3. Appointment card
    4. Postcard or letter
    5. I don’t want to receive reminders
  2. If we implemented an automated reminder system that involved a series of text messages before your appointment, how positively or negatively would you feel about this system? The response would have a numerical scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 1 being “extremely negative” and 10 being “extremely positive.”
  3. What would you like most about an automated reminder system? (Select all that apply.)
    1. Being able to remember my appointment
    2. Having a convenient way to contact the office to reschedule
    3. Allowing my caregiver to receive a reminder as well
    4. Being able to easily check my appointment time by looking at my text messages
    5. Having a record of all of my appointments in my text history
    6. Other

 

  1. What would you like least about an automated reminder system? (Select all that apply.)
    1. I don’t have a cell phone.
    2. I don’t know how to use my cell phone.
    3. I don’t like receiving text messages.
    4. I prefer to have a paper confirmation of my appointments.
    5. I don’t use my cell phone often, so I might not see the reminder.
    6. I want to be able to talk to the office in case I have questions about my appointment.
    7. I don’t like technology.
    8. Other

 

By getting a consensus of how your patients will feel about a new system, you’ll be able to counter any objections as you plan your rollout. You’ll also be able to address each patient personally and discuss any concerns they have.

 

Provide Advance Notice

 

A sudden change is not only scary, but it can leave your patients unprepared. For example, if you are moving to an automated text message reminder system but several of your patients don’t have cell phones, then they’ll need time to make arrangements, whether it’s by having the messages go to a caregiver or procuring a cell phone to be able to receive messages directly.

 

We recommend notifying your patients several weeks in advance of the shift. You can post an announcement in your office and send a letter to your patients announcing the upgrade and explaining why you’re making the change.

 

Be clear that it is for the benefit of your patients so that they’ll get more timely reminders about their appointments. But, also acknowledge that you are sensitive to any disruption this change has on their current way of managing the schedule and promise to provide support and assistance during the transition period.

 

It can also be helpful to outline the steps you’ll be taking and the dates associated with them.

 

For example:

 

To better serve our valued patients, we are adding new software that will allow us to send automated appointment reminder messages! This will help us better manage our calendar and assist you with your schedule as well by helping to ensure that you never forget about an appointment.

 

We will begin sending these messages on August 1st, and during that time, we will continue with our current reminder system to give you time to adjust to this change. Starting on September 15th, all of our appointment reminders will be delivered this way unless you make arrangements with our staff.

 

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask us at the front desk or call our office at 555.343.1234.

 

This message serves to give an adjustment period while also making it clear that there will be other options if they choose to opt out of this system. Another important aspect of the announcement is a clear statement of benefit for the patients that this change will help them remember their appointments.

 

Schedule a Workshop

 

If a significant portion of your patient base is elderly, it could be beneficial to schedule a brief workshop where you explain more about how the automated reminders work and show your patients how to view the messages you send and respond.

 

Not only will this help ensure that your system is welcomed by your patients, but it can also be a valuable add-on service. There are probably plenty of mature citizens who would be grateful for a tutorial on how to use their cell phones!

 

Communicate the Change with Family and Caregivers

 

Many of your elderly patients are likely to have family members or caregivers that look after them and help them with daily tasks. An automated reminder system can also be used to send reminders to caregivers so that they can assist and also ensure that the patient gets to his or her appointment.

 

Here’s an example of this concept in action:

 

Mary usually gets a phone call about her appointment. Sometimes she writes it down, but she has occasionally forgotten. When the new automated reminder system is implemented by her doctor’s office, the office manager added Mary’s caregiver’s phone number into the system. Then, instead of calling Mary and relying on her to remember, the office now sends a text message to the caregiver, who is in charge of Mary’s schedule.

 

Offer to Send Mail

 

In an ideal world, everyone would embrace an automated reminder system, and it would be a smooth and seamless transition. However, there are bound to be a handful of patients that you won’t be able to move over to an automated reminder system. If they don’t have a cell phone or a caregiver, then there’s no way to send a text reminder. In cases like these, you may need to remain flexible and offer to send postcards or stick to your phone call reminder method.

 

Over time, you can transition more of your patients over to automation and work closely with new patients to ensure that they can receive automated reminders, but initially, you may need to handhold a couple of patients and keep them on a more manual system.

 

Conclusion

 

Don’t get discouraged if you face resistance or uncertainty about this change. Most patients will readily accept automated reminders and will be happy that your new system is so convenient. However, if patients are used to having things a certain way, you’ll need to be more patient as you make this transition.

 

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