Your practice puts a lot of work into remaining organized and consistent in scheduling time for all patients. However, sometimes it seems patients are willing to let that hard work go to waste by just not showing up. The definition of “cancellation” might vary from office to office, but a no-show is always the same clear case—a patient doesn’t come to their appointment without notifying you. No-shows are detrimental to all parties involved; they cost your business time and money, you lose an opportunity to help someone, and the patient doesn’t receive the help they needed. How do we avoid these costly scenarios? Here are five strategies to help you reduce patient no-shows.

Use appointment reminders

Appointment cards are great, but they’re not the best reminder for your patients. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that no-show rates drop by about 6% if patients receive a call to remind them of their appointment, and they drop by another 3-4% if the calls are made by an actual person rather than an automated system.
Of course, most practices don’t have the time or the staff to deliver a personal call to every patient. Automated calls are still important to use, though, especially combined with text and email reminders, which are also shown to decrease no-shows. There are plenty of services available that offer customized appointment reminders for the needs of any practice or individual patient.

Run a tight ship

You might have great spreadsheets and flawlessly organized calendars, but your schedule isn’t going to help much in reducing the number of patients that don’t show up. You need to establish a mutual respect for both parties’ time. Reduce patient wait time with accurate scheduling, stick to the itinerary throughout the day, don’t reschedule patients and keep regular office hours.  Also consider using digitized intake software that allows patients to complete their forms in advance.  Patients appreciate being able to complete intake forms and assessments at their convenience, and visits start on time with better information received in advance.
To ensure that patients are being respectful on their end, you should be booking tightly. If you have a rather loose schedule, patients will assume that not showing up or rescheduling for a different time isn’t a big deal; proper scheduling proves that it is, in fact, a big deal not to come during their allotted time.
That said, there is a difference between tight booking and overbooking. Some no-shows are inevitable, but leaning on them to keep your schedule on pace is not an effective strategy.

Make your stance clear

Patients should know your stance on cancellations and no-shows from the get-go. Be sure to have a written no-show/cancellation policy that you can provide for your patients’ reference and observation. In this policy, you have a few ways you can disincentivize no-shows, such as:
• Placing a nominal charge on the patient’s bill that clears when they show up for the appointment and stays on if they miss.
• Allowing patients to prepay for their next appointment.
• Rewarding patients who arrive on time with discounts (as long as those discounts don’t violate any laws or contracts).
• Charging for non-emergency same-day cancellations.
• Conducting prize drawings for on-time patients in a given period of time.

You should also verify that your patients’ contact information is up-to-date at every visit, so that your appointment reminders get through to them. As an added measure, have the patient repeat their appointment date and time when they schedule it to increase their chances of remembering.

Evaluate management system reports

You should be utilizing all that your practice management system has to offer. Does it have a way to track no-shows and cancellations? Is there a lost patient log you can use to identify any patients that don’t have future appointments on the schedule? Are there any analytics tools that can help you find patterns in patient cancellations and no-shows? If not, consider whether any of these tools would be helpful to your practice, and if you need to update what management system you’re using.

No-shows can be frustrating at times, and in the face of them, you might feel helpless. Thankfully, with these five tips, you’re able to reduce the likelihood of no-shows and create a better environment for practitioners and patients alike.