When patients fail to attend appointments, resources are wasted and work schedules are disrupted. Health care staff must spend time filling vacant slots with other patients when an appointment is rescheduled or canceled, which reduces overall efficiency.
Over the years, many different strategies have been used to prevent financial losses resulting from non-attendance. Overbooking appointments, for instance, was once a popular practice — although it came with challenges and pitfalls, such as a bottleneck on days when everyone showed up. In today's health care environment, overbooking isn't efficient. Instead, providers are turning to technology-driven tools like automated appointment reminders with more success.
To get to the core of the issue, let’s examine the reasons behind no-shows and their impact on behavioral health and human services. We’ll then delve into how patient appointment reminders can reduce missed appointments, improve operational efficiency, and increase revenue. Lastly, you’ll learn how to make automated patient reminders more effective by focusing on the patient.
The Impact of No-Shows on Practices and Patients
Whether in family medicine or behavioral health, no-shows may be trending upward with nearly half of practices reporting higher rates since 2021. About 39% of practices say no-show rates have stayed the same while 12% report decreased numbers.
Outpatient no-shows can lead to lost revenue for behavioral health practices and it’s hard to determine staffing needs without an accurate patient count. But the worst scenario is when patients fail to make their scheduled appointments and their treatments get delayed, which can negatively affect patient outcomes.
There’s a variety of factors contributing to patients missing appointments and since the COVID-19 pandemic began, patients have been unsure whether to keep their appointments, reschedule, or cancel.
The bottom line is that attendance and compliance barriers may be formidable based on a wide range of issues. While it’s always helpful to understand why your patients miss their scheduled appointments, you also need a way to improve their likelihood of showing up on time and as scheduled. This is where automated patient appointment reminders come in.
Types and Benefits of Patient Appointment Reminder Systems
There are several methods for patient outreach, each with benefits and limitations. From time-consuming manual processes to time-saving automated appointment reminder systems, here are the most common methods.
Appointment Reminder Cards
These are simple cards with the patient’s next appointment date written on the card. Still in use today, they aren’t the most private option and their effectiveness (and cost-effectiveness) is debatable. Staff time is probably more valuable than any benefits gained from this process.
Appointment and Follow-Up Postcards
Before privacy laws like HIPAA, providers routinely sent their patients postcards through the mail. These were problematic for several reasons. The open-face cards often included patient information such as name, date of birth, appointment type, date, and location, as well as more sensitive information like lab results and dates of upcoming tests. Today, HIPAA-compliant mailers exist. However, they’re time-consuming to fill out and are therefore less efficient than automated methods.
Phone Call Appointment Reminder (Manual)
If a reminder call takes three to eight minutes and looking up the number and dialing it takes another minute, having staff members make manual phone calls can quickly become time-consuming and costly.
Phone calls can also be very disruptive. Unless patients explicitly choose for you to call them, they may feel like it’s an intrusion. Whenever you need to leave a voicemail, decide ahead of time what you are going to say. Remember any communication you leave for your patient must follow HIPAA-guidelines for patient communications. Lastly, you’ll also need to figure out a workflow for handling return calls for confirmations and cancellations as well as to reschedule.
A better option may be automated patient appointment reminders. For instance, ContinuumCloud requires patients to opt in before receiving notifications, including phone calls.
Manual Email Reminder
Though less time-consuming than previous methods, manual emails are less efficient than automated patient reminders. Email is still a viable option if that's what you prefer — just be sure to obtain permission first and follow all HIPAA rules.
Automated Patient Appointment Reminders
You can save time, reduce administrative costs, and help clients keep track of all of their upcoming appointments by scheduling automated reminders. Personalized reminders can be delivered by email, text message, or phone. ContinuumCloud's system ensures you have permission to send notifications based on the preferences of the patient.
ContinuumCloud understands that there’s no one-size-fits-all appointment reminder solution. As a result, our system offers the following HIPAA-compliant communication options, which are all configurable to meet your needs:
- Send mass emails and text messages with bulk messaging
- Use secure SMS (text) messaging
- Choose the patient portal for numerous self-service (one-way and two-way) communication options
- Encourage patients to adjust notification preferences, settings, as well as send and receive messages through CaredFor's patient engagement mobile app
Automation means that you can schedule communication days, weeks, or months ahead of any upcoming appointments or events. ContinuumCloud’s comprehensive EHR system also includes automated patient scheduling software.
The benefits of automated scheduling are similar to those of automated appointment reminders: they save time and money by streamlining workflows and ensure optimal staffing levels for better customer service.
How Patient Appointment Reminders Affect Behavioral Health
A recent MGMA poll of health care leaders found that 88% are using appointment reminder automations in their practices. The areas with the highest ROI are:
- Lower no-show rate
- Higher level of compliance among patients
- Better operational efficiency
- Fewer vacancies
- Bigger growth in patients and revenue
Health delivery organizations that use automated appointment reminders are more efficient and have better compliance rate with patients. In most cases, automated appointment reminders reduce no-shows, save staff time on appointment confirmations, improve efficiency, and boost productivity. There are also specific uses for appointment reminders within behavioral health.
Improve Psychiatric Medication Appointment Follow-Up
Along with in-person follow-up appointments, lab work is often required to gauge a patient’s adherence, side effects, and adverse reactions. It’s a major obstacle to provide this needed care if patients don’t show up for medication appointment follow-ups. Failure to keep medication appointments may lead to gaps in therapeutic care, leading to relapses or worse.
For behavioral health patients, medication adherence — including follow-up appointments, lab work compliance, and refill management — is complicated. However, a growing body of evidence shows that simple but proactive measures like patient appointment reminders can help improve adherence rates.
ContinuumCloud’s automated reminder solution is not just for traditional patient care appointments. You can configure it to boost your patients' success in all aspects of their treatment plan. For example, schedule reminders for lab work, testing, telehealth, human services, group therapy, and child and family appointments.
Improve Usability By Focusing on the Patient Experience
Despite being an effective tool for preventing no-shows, appointment reminders are not always patient-friendly. According to a recently published report from the Veterans Health Administration, health care systems may be able to improve usability by modifying appointment reminders to be more patient-friendly by adjusting the content, timing, and delivery.
The study finds that in all health care systems, no-shows are a persistent and costly problem. The use of appointment reminders is recommended since forgetting is one of the most common causes. Most appointment reminder software, however, is built so that it can be used administratively, meaning it's not very efficient for patients to use.
ContinuumCloud offers two modules for appointment reminders. First, there is a traditional clinical interface in which reminders are automated during patient appointment scheduling. This is part of our comprehensive EHR. Next, there is a patient-facing application which is part of our CaredFor mobile patient engagement platform.
You can improve the patient experience and boost engagement by giving them more choices. Patients can decide when, where, and how often they will receive notifications, and communicate with their care team.
Reduce No-Shows With Automated Patient Appointment Reminders
Nearly 50% of providers across all areas of health care say that no-shows are rising while only 12% are seeing declining numbers. Missed appointments are especially costly for behavioral health organizations in terms of operating efficiency and patient well-being.
It helps to understand why patients miss their scheduled appointments so that you can develop effective solutions to help. We know from research that appointment reminders delivered by text message, email, and phone calls improve attendance rates, especially when driven by technology like automation. And more health care leaders than ever are using some type of automated appointment reminder system.
ContinuumCloud’s practice management suite includes automated patient appointment reminders and other communication tools that are designed to be part of a broader strategy. Contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive EHR technology and patient engagement solutions designed exclusively for behavioral health and human services.