7 Strategies For Reducing No-Show Rates in Primary Care


Your patients depend on you to keep them healthy and aware of risks or diseases that may have developed. The problem is, you can only help them if they walk through that door. Every time someone fails to keep their appointment, that’s not only health concerns remaining unseen, but an hour of time and revenue gone.

Studies show that the average no-show rate for doctor’s appointments in the United States is nearly 19%. That’s a shockingly high amount of revenue lost and patients gone unseen.

It normally isn’t intentional on the part of your patients. The majority of no-shows are caused by simple forgetfulness, scheduling conflicts, emergencies, or financial difficulty. There’s only so much one can do to help people manage their lives outside of your exam room, so let’s focus on the problems you can solve.

Tweak your long-term schedule.

If you notice that many of your no-shows are due to scheduling conflicts or patients forgetting, it could be a sign that you allow scheduling too far in advance. Anything more than a month is difficult for patients to commit to properly. If your practice is so busy that you must schedule that far out, it might be time to slow down on bringing in new clients.

When you book an appointment a month or more out, your patient’s schedule can completely change in that time. Not only that but the urgency they felt when they booked the appointment can easily fade as other, different pressing matters arise. 

Visually confirm appointments immediately.

It’s important to give your patients something to reference after the appointment is booked. This will allow them to make sure that it is on the date and time they expected and have something to check back to later. When appointments are made in-office, many practices choose to distribute appointment cards. This is a great start.

Many customers expect and appreciate an emailed confirmation, especially if you book the appointment over the phone. Confirmation through email will often prompt their cell phone calendar to add the appointment automatically. It will also give them a searchable reference, so they can easily find it later.

Send a few friendly reminders.

Especially if the appointment is booked a month out, it is important to remind your customers several times about it. SMS reminders are a great way to contact customers and just give them a little heads-up. These reminders keep the appointment date fresh in their minds and help them better manage their upcoming dates.

For example, a month out might be a little too far to ask off an afternoon at work. Two weeks prior tends to be the sweet spot for a lot of workers. A quick reminder two weeks from the appointment will give them a chance to ask their boss the paid time off that they need.

Request confirmation through SMS or email.

As their appointment draws near, within about three days, it’s important to confirm with the patient if they plan to show up or not. This can be done with a simple SMS confirmation message. The message requests for them to reply with a quick “yes” if they plan to keep the appointment. It’s also important to include a phone number for them to call and cancel.

Some offices choose to ask customers to confirm appointments through email. While email is great for delivering a lot of information at once, many people’s inboxes tend to be pretty swamped. Your message is less likely to get lost in the fray if it is a simple and quick SMS.

Give them a call if they don’t confirm.

It’s fairly likely that if they don’t respond to the confirmation message that you send, they probably won’t show up. This could be because their email address has changed or maybe they aren’t much of a text message sender. You can try giving them a quick call to confirm over the phone and have your reception staff leave them a message.

There are ways to automate these types of messages as well, and have them go out just like a text message.

Follow-up with any no-shows.

It’s important to call your no-shows if they miss an appointment. Of course, you’ll want to attempt to reschedule with them, but you’ll also want to hear their reasoning. Make sure to take note and track the customer reasonings for not showing up and also to note the individual’s tendency to no-show in their file.

You may discover that the reason your patients aren’t showing up end up pointing to some trends. Perhaps they can’t afford it because they were laid off and lost their insurance or maybe they couldn’t get off work. If you see a trend, you can fix it. For example, maybe you could offer new financing or payment options to help those who are having financial troubles or offer Saturday appointments to alleviate scheduling woes.

Use technology to your advantage.

Automated appointment reminders (like Appointment Reminder) can make a lot of your no-show outreach effortless. They easily integrate with the calendar you already use. Once templates are created for SMS and email messages, you can tell the software when to send reminders, and it will do so automatically. This leaves your reception staff free to spend more time-solving problems for your patients, managing their other tasks, and getting to the bottom of why no-shows happen in the first place.

All it takes is a simple strategy of understanding your patient’s circumstances and giving them ample reminders to lower your no-show rates dramatically. Reminders can be managed manually, through tactics like appointment cards and phone calls. Ideally, though, automation is the way to go so no appointments fall through the cracks nor will your staff have to take on the huge extra workload. 

So, take a moment to sit down and brainstorm some ways to send your patients a few reminders. Whether you do so manually or through the power of automation, you’ll see your no-show rates take a nosedive.