Every minute is important when you are running a busy health care practice. You can’t afford to have any unexpected openings in your schedule. However, as much as you value your time, some patients don’t seem to understand the adverse impact that “no-shows” have on your overall practice. They don’t understand that they don’t just affect the doctor and staff. They also affect other patients that could have benefited from an earlier opening in the schedule. Text appointment reminders can be helpful in this regard. This article will explain the many advantages of text appointment reminders.
The importance of limiting no shows
As much as possible, you want to limit the number of no-shows and last-minute cancellations that occur in your practice. You also want to encourage all of your patients to appear at their scheduled appointments so that they can get the care they need in a timely manner.
However, if they are not able to keep an appointment, you definitely want to know about it as soon as possible. This allows you to reschedule another visit at the earliest time possible. In addition, early notification of a cancellation allows that appointment slot to go to someone else who might benefit from an earlier appointment.
Unfortunately, sometimes patients forget that they have an appointment. They plan something else and forget to inform the clinic. While they might think it’s harmless, it could be time wasted for the physician and staff, as well as a missed opportunity for waiting patients.
Text appointment reminders can be quite helpful to remind patients of their appointment days in advance. That helps them to remember to keep the appointment if they still can.
And, if they cannot, it reminds them to call the clinic to cancel the appointment and reschedule another. One big advantage of text appointment reminders is that it benefits not only the doctor, but also the patient, and the practice. If this sounds good to you, read on to learn the best way to set up an appointment reminder system.
Best practices on using a text appointment reminder system
Here are 7 things you should do to get your text reminder system up and running optimally.
1. Ask permission
Before you send out text reminders to any of your patients, you should ask for permission from your patients to receive text appointment reminders from your practice. Some people resent receiving unexpected text reminders. Further, they may ignore them or send them to spam where they remain unseen.
You can ask for their consent once immediately after confirming the date and time they’ve scheduled their next appointment. That will save you time. And it will allow you to enter them into the text appointment reminder app on the spot so that they will begin getting updates.
If you weren’t able or forgot to ask for permission, it is still ok to send the patient a text because consent, although preferable, is technically not required.
Finally, all text appointment reminders should provide an easy-to-use option to opt-out if they no longer want to receive them. This is not only respectful of your patient’s wishes, but it is required by law.
2. Be sure to include an opt-out
All text appointment reminders should include an easy-to-see and easy-to-use opt-out option. This allows your patients to let you know they no longer want to receive this type of text from you. It is also a trigger to let you set up alternate ways to communicate with them about upcoming appointments.
3. Make your appointment policies clear
When scheduling an appointment, you should inform patients about your practice’s no-show, late arrival, and cancellation policies. This can help prevent unpleasant events, such as a patient that you thought was a no-show who arrives late still expecting to be seen. It is recommended that you include a link to your no-show and cancellation policies in your text message as a reminder prior to their visit.
4. Business Hours
It is better if you text your patients during business hours (9 am to 5 pm from Monday to Friday only) as they might have some commitments during off-hours and might not be able to respond immediately to your appointment reminder.
5. Use a local phone number
When you’re texting your patients about their appointment reminders, try to use a that you use a number local to your state or county. This is because calls from outside area code or 1-800 number might confuse them leading them to ignore the text. Some might even think that your practice has been hacked and their privacy has been breached.
6. Only send essential information
You should keep your text appointment reminder short and easy to read so your patients are more likely to take time to read and respond to your text message. If your message is too long, they might think it’s just a promotional message and ignore it.
It is recommended you only include the following information:
– Appointment Date & Time
– Attending Physician
– Location or Clinic Office
7. Do not include any protected health information (PHI) in your text reminders
Never include any protected health information (PHI) text message as that violates privacy laws (HIPAA). PHI is defined as the combination of health information and personally identifiable information (PII). For example, the results of a lab test combined with the patient’s medical record number. Instead, only include information pertaining to their appointment as noted above.
8. Enable call-to-action feature
Along with the information to include in your text message, you should also have a way for the patient to respond to your text appointment reminder saying they are confirming, canceling, or rescheduling. If you’re using a platform to send automated texts, the Call-to-Action feature can be enabled to allow automation on your end if they’re confirming, rescheduling, or canceling their appointment.
9. Schedule multiple reminders at staggered intervals
There are a variety of ways to do this. For example,
- Send the first reminder asking to confirm, cancel, or reschedule their appointment approximately five days beforehand.
- If they do respond to your first reminder, send another text reminder in two days.
- If they still don’t respond call them a day or two before thr scheduled appointment to confirm their attendance.
After the program has been in place for a month or two, you will have a better idea of what type of schedule works best for your practice.
10. Cancelling if no response is an option
Depending on your practice’s rescheduling and cancellation policies and preferences, if a patient does not confirm their attendance after multiple attempts, you could cancel the appointment and have it assigned to a different patient. Many might find this too punitive, however, and be reluctant to implement such a policy.
Related Content: 4 Ways You Can Improve Patient Engagement
What are the benefits of having text appointment reminders?
Having to implement a text appointment reminder system in your practice helps both parties to save time. Listed below are the benefits you could get from having one:
1. Fewer no-shows and last-minute cancellations
Everyone dislikes having a patient not show up for an appointment that you set aside specifically for them. While patients can often justly get the blame for this occurrence, it may not be entirely their fault, especially when they don’t know who to contact to cancel their appointment.
If they’ve scheduled their appointments physically at your practice, they might not have a calling card or a flyer to see how they can contact you in case of sudden schedule changes. It may be that you’re not easily found on the Internet, or the e-mail address and phone number provided on your website are no longer up-to-date.
To avoid any no-shows or last-minute cancellations, sending text appointment reminders allows them to reschedule or cancel if they can’t make it to the scheduled appointment. In this way, you’ll be notified ahead of time and can give out their slot for other clients.
2. Better communication
When you try to call your clients during business hours, there’s a high possibility that they won’t be able to answer your phone call, especially when it’s from an unknown number. Plus, they might not be near their phones since they’re busy working on their job.
With a text appointment reminder, they are not required to answer immediately. Rather they can respond when it is more convenient to do so. Depending on the way you send appointment reminders (manual or through software), having the ability to have two-way communication allows for better customer service.
3. Convenient Reminder
If they’re making plans that are in conflict with their schedule on your practice, having to see the text appointment reminder will allow them to remember their commitment to you and cancel non-important meetings for something else.
4. Automation saves time
You can save time and human resources if you use software that allows you to automate text appointment reminders to your patients. So you will no longer have to assign or perform the task manually day-by-day. And, you won’t have to key-in their appointment information on your mobile phone because the software will do that for you. All of this is a great time-saver that allows you to work on other more pressing tasks instead.
The bottom line
Text appointment systems have many benefits for your practice and your patients. These include fewer no-shows and late cancellations, improved adherence to scheduled appointments, improved communication with patients, and an improved ability to maintain a full schedule. All of this means improved patient engagement as well as improved practice efficiency. Truly a win-win-win for everybody.
Anna Villarreal is the SVP of Business Development for The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the Editor of the Women's Health section. In that role, she recruits physicians and other credible authors to contribute original content on topics of interest to our female readers. In addition, she is a regular contributor to the site.
Anna is the Founder and CEO of LifeStory Health, a lab testing company specifically for women of menstruating age. LifeStory Health (LSH) delivers personal health services as well as supports healthcare and research organizations. Results are securely sent using LSH's HIPAA-compliant texting service giving women deeper insights into their health with the touch of a button.
Prior to commercializing LifeStory Health, Inc., LSH’s novel scientific discovery has received several notable awards, including the First Place Award at Harvard University’s 19th Annual Northeast Chemistry Research Conference and The American Chemical Society & Regional Affiliates for the best Elevator Pitch Award (sponsored by JEOL USA, Inc.), Best Overall Innovation and First Place in the ConnectIN category from Northeastern University’s Research, Innovation, and Scholarship Expo (RISE) for the discovery of novel and revolutionary inventions or processes that can be translated into real-world applications, and the Best Graduate Student Poster from the 2017 International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) Boston Chapter, with subsequent representation at the international poster competition.
A strong advocate for women's healthcare, Anna's pioneering vision to map the menstrual blood proteome through a set of resolute, data-leading principles and an award-winning scientific methodology has led to extraordinary discoveries. Anna's discoveries and steadfast approach to putting the patient first is featured in over 40 publications world-wide. LifeStory Health has completed two clinical trials including Screening of Cancer Through Novel Female Specific Biomarkers in partnership with the largest non-profit healthcare system in Texas and one of the largest in the country.
To promote Innovation, Anna serves as a guest-lecturer and project sponsor at Northeastern University for several graduate-level programs. These Master-level courses include Data Analytics, Statistical Analysis, Chemistry, Regulatory Affairs, and Business Administration. Anna also serves as a project sponsor for the top 40 highest-performing students at the undergraduate level.
Anna’s style is to shine a bright light on the need for change and innovation in all the organizations that she has been involved in. This has been a consistent theme throughout her life. For example, Anna was an original influencer in the National Women’s Soccer League, the first professional women’s soccer league to survive long-term.
Anna is the Director of Philanthropy for the New England Football Club (NEFC), one of the USA’s largest youth soccer organizations. NEFC’s philanthropic initiatives have benefited thousands of children and Anna has raised nearly 100% of the operating budget that supports these initiatives as well as established long-term corporate partnerships. Anna is also on the planning committee for Children's Vision Advocacy Day at the State House, which led the successful Massachusetts legislation change requiring mandates in children’s vision care.
Anna spends most of her time at her Boston home while spending the winters down in sunny Florida.