By Mabon John, Head of Solution Architects, Lumeon

Healthcare has truly evolved into a digital care delivery process, with patient expectations of an efficient and automated experience at an all-time high. But, as large healthcare providers are trying to improve outcomes and patient care, it is not always a guarantee that patients are able to make it to their appointments.

Missed appointments can be an extremely frustrating aspect of healthcare – for both providers and patients. Estimates from Lumeon clients demonstrate that for an average sized health system, a simple 1% reduction in no-shows can increase revenue by an impressive $1 million per year. From the patient perspective, being unable to attend appointments could also be detrimental to their health and recovery.

Patients will miss appointments for a myriad of reasons, including making the appointment so far in advance that the timing is no longer convenient, forgetting to cancel the appointment, conflicts with work or childcare, or even transportation issues. This is where providers need to step in and refocus their patient outreach and engagement to help ensure that appointments work well for their patients.

Life is not always going to go as planned, and patients will sometimes need to change or cancel an appointment. When a healthcare provider can be notified ahead of time, they have a better chance of slotting in another patient to the now freed up appointment time. Effective patient engagement reaches patients in a manner that fits in with their needs and preferences, without overcomplicating the process for providers.

That being said, what is the secret to reducing missed appointments and last-minute cancellations? How can healthcare organizations achieve this without adding an administrative burden?

One way is to deploy an integrated and automated patient communication solution. NYC Health + Hospitals, a Lumeon client, recently announced that over an initial six-month period, they reduced the total of appointments missed by 6.1% since implementation at its Coney Island facility having done just that. This represents a 25% reduction in the total number of patient no-shows.

The right automated appointment reminder solution can help reduce patient no-shows in the following ways:

Automatic enrollment for text reminders
Automatically enrolling patients for text message appointment reminders when they join a public health system will give them greater control and help keep them informed. Patients must be able to opt-out of reminders, customize their communication preferences, or re-activate reminders at any time.

Sending multiple reminders
Having multiple reminders sent to patients is also beneficial. For example, patients can be sent a reminder three days before their scheduled appointment and again the day before (if they choose to keep the appointment). The content of the second reminder can be focused based on their initial response.

Patients can confirm, cancel, or ask for additional help through text messages. If a patient cancels, they can be prompted to call a customer service line to reschedule their visit. In addition to primary care appointment reminders, patients can get reminders for other related appointments, (e.g. scheduled nutrition, nursing, and financial counselling appointments) that are often made in tandem with a primary care visit.

Personal communications
Healthcare providers also understand that personalized communications help ensure that the appointment schedule is effectively received, which is why patients can choose how appointment reminders are sent to them. For example, if a patient doesn’t want to receive text messages, they can be provided with an alternative such as reminder phone calls using interactive voice response or reminder emails.

Choice of language
English is not always going to be a patient’s language of choice. For example, as highlighted by NYC Health + Hospitals, being able to offer messages in the 14 most common languages spoken by the patient population of the public health system, including Spanish, Urdu, and Mandarin, improves the patient experience.

Provide detailed location information
Giving the exact location of an appointment in the text reminder e.g. ‘2AB-153 Wood Lane Medical Center’ makes it easier for the patient to get to the right place in a large hospital, helping ensure they hit their arrival times and are not left wandering around trying to find the right department/floor/check in location

Flexible scheduling options
Finally, offering a flexible scheduling platform allowing patients to directly connect to the call center for help in rescheduling, and even access expanded language options, all of which can further improve overall communication between patients and providers.

Having a system that integrates into an organization’s EHR also guarantees that cancelled appointments are automatically updated in the system. With that, health systems are able to improve real-time availability for other patients looking to schedule an appointment.

NYC Health + Hospitals is just one example of a forward-thinking healthcare provider taking a more proactive and personalized approach – one where the care delivery process has been digitized to meet patient expectations and automated for efficiency at scale. This sets the pace for large healthcare providers looking to improve outcomes, patient experience and efficiency across their enterprise. For these providers, reducing missed appointments is only the start – the next stop is to unify and integrate the entire patient access experience.