The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

5 ways to reduce no-show rates and cancellations at your healthcare practice

No-shows and last-minute cancellations negatively impact your practice. Here’s how to handle them.

reduce no-shows at your medical practice

At A Glance

  • Many practices struggle with no-shows and last-minute cancellations.
  • Implementing transparent no-show fees can foster patient commitment and minimize financial setbacks.
  • Adapting appointment strategies, such as double-booking and group sessions, combined with tailored reminders, meets diverse patient needs while safeguarding time.

Learn how you can grow your practice by reducing no-show rates and cancellations.

Treating patients is your passion, but to do that, you need them to show up to appointments. No-shows and cancellations are frustrating — and become expensive fast. According to Tebra’s 2023 survey on appointment scheduling, patient cancellations, and no-shows cost practices as much as $7,500 per month. That translates to a loss of approximately $375 per patient.

Here’s how to improve no-show rates — and the profitability of your practice.

1. Implement a fee policy

Charging a fee for consultations, cancellations, and no-shows increases the chance of patients taking their appointments seriously. If they know they will pay if they miss their appointment, they are more likely to show up or at least cancel in advance with plenty of time for you to fill their slot.

According to the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 11.3.2, it’s important to clearly notify patients in advance of any no-show fees you will charge them for missed appointments or failing to cancel an appointment within a pre-specified time period. 

Include your no-show policy as part of your intake paperwork, and display it in your office and on your website, so patients aren’t caught by surprise.

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2. Double-book appointments

Booking different patients into the same time slot can be an insurance policy of sorts. It’s likely that someone won’t show up, so this practically guarantees you won’t be stuck with an unused time slot.

But be careful with this practice, because it could cause patients to spend an inordinate amount of time in your waiting room. In Tebra’s survey, 17% of patients said up to 15 minutes and 39% said 16 to 30 minutes was too long to wait in the waiting room before an appointment. It’s important to pay attention to average wait times to avoid impacting patient retention.

3. Offer group appointments

Some types of patient appointments require a certain level of privacy, but others do not. Group appointments allow you to spend more time with patients, while essentially eliminating the chance of having a time slot that produces zero revenue.

For example, the Cleveland Clinic offers more than 200 different shared medical appointments. The clinic enables 10 to 15 patients with chronic conditions to see a care team together for 90 minutes, compared to 15 to 30 minutes for an individual appointment.

In addition to reducing no-show rates and cancellations, group appointments can help grow your practice, because you’re able to meet with more patients. They can also benefit patients by creating the chances for community support from others who share their health concerns, which can boost patient retention.

4. Send more appointment reminders

Some patients diligently note appointments on their calendars as soon as they make them, but not everyone is as organized. Many people have the best of intentions, but accidentally miss appointments due to genuine forgetfulness.

Your practice can mitigate this. Of patients surveyed, 40% said doctors should send more appointment reminders to stop them from canceling, rescheduling, or no-showing.

Also, by generation, Gen Z (born 1997 and later) and Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) were most likely to change their behavior because of appointment reminders. Nearly 50% of Gen Z wanted more reminders, followed by 45% of Millennials. 

Sending well-timed appointment confirmations and reminders is an easy way to decrease no-shows and cancellations across all patients, as well as for specific age groups. You can even automate this process and give time back to your busy staff to focus on revenue-generating tasks. 

5. Offer discounted prepaid appointments

Patients are much more likely to keep an appointment for which they’ve already paid. Tebra’s survey found that 64% of patients said they would be more likely to show up for an appointment if they were offered a discount for prepayment. Not only does this guarantee you won’t lose money from a no-show or a last-minute cancellation, it also increases the chance you’ll get to treat the person.

Without an incentive, most patients probably won’t be too eager to pay upfront, so offer a discount. The ability to save money will entice some of your budget-savvy patients to prepay. Consider giving it a try, as this practice is becoming increasingly common in both hospitals and doctors’ offices. Just be sure to review your local regulations to make sure your discount is compliant.

Reducing no-show rates and cancellations will increase patient retention and ultimately help grow your practice. Treating a full patient load each day allows your business to remain profitable, while ensuring you’re able to help as many patients as possible.

Download the report

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Michelle Meier

Michelle Meier is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about B2B/SaaS, digital health, and US healthcare. She lives in New York.

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