The Intake

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Reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations with these top strategies

Patient no-shows and last-minute cancellations can impact your bottom line and patient relationships. Here’s how to address them.

a doctor who knows how to handle patient cancellations

At a Glance

  • No-shows and last-minute cancellations can negatively impact your practice revenue and patient relationships
  • An effective no-show strategy involves identifying the reasons your patients no-show and addressing the causes directly
  • Automated appointment reminders can solidify relationships and reduce last-minute scheduling issues

Patient no-shows and late cancellations can have a negative impact on both practice revenue and patient health. But when it comes to how to handle patient cancellations, a few simple strategies can reduce your financial and operational risk.

Tebra recently polled a mix of providers — primary care physicians, dentists, medical specialists, and mental health providers — and found they lose as much as $7,500 per month as a result of patient cancellations and no-shows.

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Late cancellations and no-shows cause day-of operational challenges. And practices that don’t tackle these issues head on risk losing patients in the long run.

For patients, keeping them on schedule with appointments can lead to better health management and adherence, positive outcomes, and improved long-term health.

For your business, beyond the revenue risk of no-shows, maintaining an effective patient-provider relationship is difficult when you don’t see your patients regularly and as planned. With healthcare competition on the rise, patient retention is critical for continued practice growth. 

Reduce healthcare practice attrition and improve profitability with a comprehensive no-show strategy

Life (and patients) can be unpredictable. There are a variety of reasons patients don’t show up for appointments or need to cancel at the last minute. But you can still try to address them. Here’s how to handle patient cancellations and improve no-show rates.

Look for no-show patterns and address them

There are endless reasons why patients miss appointments. Some practices notice more no-shows the day after a holiday. Others observe that older patients who care for grandchildren may be less likely to keep afternoon appointments. 

It’s important to identify no-show offenders and understand why they skip or miss appointments. Is it a social determinant, such as lack of access to transportation? Worries about exposure to seasonal illnesses? Are they frustrated by long wait times from earlier visits? Maybe they’ve just forgotten an appointment that was scheduled months earlier.

Digging deeper into the potential reasons behind your no-shows and cancellations can provide valuable insight to drive your improvement strategies. Once you know the culprits, consider those factors as you strategize how to handle patient cancellations.

Prioritize pre-appointment communication with patients

Sending automated patient appointment reminders on a proven cadence (3 days prior, day before, and day of) can reduce no-shows. Determine your patients’ preferred method of notification and use that information to customize a reminder deployment strategy. Digital reminders remain popular — 40% of patients said that sending more reminders would stop them from canceling, rescheduling, or not showing up.

Be sure to clearly communicate your safety protocols when appointments are scheduled, and set expectations for the patient’s visit. Ask patients to complete their digital check-in, ahead of time. A KLAS 2022 study found that appointment registration/check-in is the most desirable digital patient feature — and has one of the lowest provider adoption rates. 

These simple tactics ensure your patients are aware of their appointment, and know you’ll be ready for them when they arrive.

Develop a plan for repeat patient no-shows

There will always be patients who have a history of late cancellations and no-shows and need more intervention. You can help reduce the overall impact of habitual no-shows by having a plan in place to specifically address them. Supplement your automated reminders with a personal phone call, or implement a policy that requires patients with a no-show history to prepay. Tebra found that 64% of patients would be more likely to show up for an appointment if they were offered a discount for prepayment.

Regardless of how you decide to handle patient cancellations and no-shows at your healthcare practice, it's time to try something new. Any improvement has the potential to increase your bottom line while reminding patients that you are committed to keeping their health on track with helpful information and regular appointments.

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Learn how to create a seamless patient experience that increases loyalty and reduces churn, while providing personalized care that drives practice growth in Tebra’s free guide to optimizing your practice.

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Michelle Meier, freelance healthcare writer

Michelle Meier is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about B2B/SaaS, digital health, and US healthcare. Her passion for writing about healthcare stems from an interest in health equity, addressing SDoHs, and improving access to care for all. She enjoys working to further the conversation about key issues impacting the healthcare landscape today. She lives in New York.

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