Communication technology has changed a lot in the past two decades. Gone are the good old days when a call to a patient’s one and only home phone (complete with tape answering machine) would be sure to make an impact.The array of ways to contact patients can sometimes be confusing, let alone how to make the greatest impact so they come in for their appointments.
At Callpointe, we’ve been monitoring the success rates, office remarks and patient feedback for the hundreds of possible methods for delivering appointment reminders. This has led us to identify the best practices for patient communication delivery methods, scheduling of patient contact, and the content of the message. These three areas define your strategy for appointment reminders. Here’s what we’ve learned:
Types of Patient Communication
From least effective to most effective, the four most popular ways of reaching busy patients with their own fast-paced lives are postcards, email, text message, and phone call.
- Postcards have the lowest response rate, and cost the most per impression. They’re often thrown away with the rest of the junk mail. Most offices in this decade have discarded this method.
- Emails are most effective when sent a week or more in advance of the appointment. If they are timed too close to the appointment, they might go unopened. Despite some drawbacks, emails are very effective when you need to impart complex or comprehensive information to a patient.
- Text messages are effective reminders, especially for younger patients. They get immediate front-of-mind attention, are easy to review later, and simple to respond to. Their downside is the limited amount of available character spaces.
- Phone calls force patients to engage, meaning a 100% “open rate” assuming someone answers the phone or the message is left on voicemail. Unlike a text message, there’s no limit on the length of the message.
The most effective strategy we’ve found is to combine two or three of these delivery methods to remind patients of their appointments and reduce no-shows. The specific formula will vary from practice to practice. For example, what works for a geriatric specialist will differ from what works for pediatrics. At Callpointe, we’re ready to analyze your needs and recommend the best possible messaging solution.
Scheduling of Patient Contact
As we’ve said, the specific formula for best results differs from practice to practice. The following is a sample schedule that works for many general practitioners, and forms the baseline for our recommendations.
Send an email 7 to 10 days in advance of the appointment, containing all the most important information about the timing and purpose of the visit.
Call 2 to 3 days before the appointment, asking for a confirmation at that time.
Text on the same day of the appointment, 1 to 2 hours ahead of the scheduled time. This is especially important if you haven’t received confirmation via phone.
Like all good planning, it’s best to start with an idea and then vary it according to specific needs. From this baseline plan, we can help you craft the patient contact schedule most likely to both ensure maximum attendance and keep your patients happy with how you communicate with them.
Content of Patient Contact
Obviously, the information in your patient appointment reminders should include the patient’s first name, doctor’s name, appointment date and location, and any preparation needed for the appointment. But how you deliver that message makes a big difference both in how effective the reminder is, and in how your patients will feel about being reminded. Here are a few of the most important details we’ve noticed over our years of delivering top-notch patient contact across the country.
Always use a human voice for your reminder calls. Never use a robotic voice. Patients hate those.
Many (but not all) practices get better results from a male voice or a female voice. Which works best varies from practice to practice.
Messages should prompt interaction. For example, patients can confirm appointments, replay the message, or be connected with the office.
Include clear directions for how the patient can reach your office if they have questions, or need to reschedule.
Putting these best practices to work and adjusting them based on collated data from your specific practice will improve your no-show rate, saving your office money and hassle. Callpointe can help do that by providing timely, effective and customizable patient communication programs at rates far lower than hiring staff. Contact us today for the details on how we can help you.