March 27, 2018 | Doug Cundiff, MPT, MPH

3 Minute Read

Key Moves in Optimizing Patient Attendance

The Importance of an Attendance Policy & Scheduling for Success

There are many obstacles for private practices in healthcare, but one common challenge is patient scheduling and patient attendance. Low attendance rates can derail numerous aspects of a private healthcare business including successful patient outcomes and generated revenue.

Doug Cundiff, industry guru, has worked alongside directors and private practice business owners of all sizes across the United States. As a result, he has a keen sense of the attendance obstacles healthcare businesses face on a daily basis. No matter the practice size, Doug suggests an effective way to start remedying these challenges is by implementing a solid patient attendance policy.

If you haven’t developed a patient attendance policy quite yet, start by downloading the template policy below. This resource is a great starting point to start trending patient engagement in the direction you want.Download a patient attendance policy template!

Maintaining favorable patient outcomes using an attendance policy takes more than just having one. Beginning at 1:35 in the video below, Doug discusses the proper way to implement a patient attendance policy into your business, and the takeaway’s it provides to keep increasing the quality of care. 

Net Health’s Professional Services works with specialized healthcare practices to target, navigate, and conquer complex business barriers. Watch the video below as Vice President for ReDoc Professional Services and Physical Therapist, Doug Cundiff, gives insight on high-impact scheduling changes and strategies to ramp up patient attendance.

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View Video Transcript

We have the opportunity to work with a number of directors and private practice business owners all across the country. And while there are many challenges out there that we’re all faced with in healthcare, one of the common challenges I hear is patient and therapist scheduling. So, we’re going to talk a little bit today about scheduling for success.

We understand the importance of patient attendance. We all know that it optimizes patient outcomes. If they attend at the recommended and agreed upon visit frequency, we’re best set up to get those outcomes that we were striving for. We also know that a patient chooses or we recommend therapy as an option to prevent or avoid surgery altogether. So, attending the recommended plan of care visit frequency is important.

Referral source relationships. We know that we need our patients to attend to get those outcomes, and we need to be able to report back those good outcomes. Patient attendance is a critical part there. Also, the patient who attends and gets those good results and has a positive experience, that word of mouth marketing is a tremendous vehicle for you to grow your business. Patient attendance is also a reflection on the value of your services. Does the patient see the progress they’re making? Do they understand where you’re going? Patient attendance is a direct reflection on how well you are doing as a clinician in providing that feedback to your patients. And lastly, we know that each of the clinics has goals and objectives that they need to meet. It has a direct impact on the revenues you bring and the therapist productivity. So, let’s talk about some of the key moves that we know are important to get that best patient attendance.

First, we understand and know that you need to have a patient attendance policy. You need to be clear with the patients on the roles and responsibilities that you’re going to take in providing the care, providing the services that you do as a professional. But we also need to make sure that the patient understands their role, their accountability in their own recovery. Attending therapy at the agreed upon frequency is an important part of that.

You also need to make sure that the process in which that patient attendance policy is shared is streamlined. It typically starts with the front office, handing it to the patient during the initial evaluation, that they review it and sign it. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s important that as the patient comes back and goes through the initial evaluation and you’re reviewing and agreeing on the goals and the plan of care that you do review the policy that the patient read, the patient signed, and that they clearly understand that if they can’t make it, we understand things come up, but if they can’t make it, give the clinic a call, we’re going to get you rescheduled. Because again, they need to be held accountable to the time slot that they’re saving within that clinic that is preventing someone else from coming into the clinic to be seen.

Then the next key move that we know is important is to have a methodology to track and trend the reasons why someone is calling and canceling. You don’t need a long list. But have a concise list that allows you to make business decisions that may require operational changes. For example, if one of the reasons that a patient or a number of patients are calling in canceling has to do with not being able to get out of work, or I can’t come in because I have to get into work early, well maybe your hours of operation aren’t meeting the needs of your patients of your community.

I worked with a clinic that was open 8:00 to 4:30 with their last appointment being seen at 3:30. Well for a lot of patients, for a lot of people out in the community, not being able to come in before work or not being able to attend therapy after work doesn’t fit their needs. And so taking a hard look at the reasons, understanding why patient attendance is being impacted, and understanding that you may need to make some changes is going to be important part of having good patient attendance, good patient outcomes.

Next, you want to be able to track and trend the patient attendance by therapist, by clinic location, by discipline. You want to track and trend those results and you also want to share those. Create a friendly but competitive environment around patient attendance. Have incentives, have goals for hitting your target patient attendance metric and make sure that you’re posting and sharing those data elements on a regular basis.

We recommend with the partners that we use to use an appointment reminder system. We’ll set it up so that a patient receives a phone call typically two days before their scheduled initial evaluation and then followup appointments, we remind patients with a text message. That’s the typical setup. But we’ll meet the needs of the patients as needed, but having an appointment reminder system has played a critical role in improving patient attendance.

We also want to make sure with that reminder system, that there is a methodology in place to call and reschedule patients who leave a message that they can’t attend. And we also don’t want to make sure that we have a hard stop rule that if we have a frequent offender, two or three strikes and you’re out. You’re off the schedule and we’ll call and get your rescheduled when you’re ready to attend. But that’s part of your policy, but that also needs to be part of that discipline that you have in maintaining that patient attendance policy that you have in the clinic.

So lastly, we want to make sure that in order to be success, that you have those keys for success. You need an early buy in with an education with your therapist. You need to set a baseline. Where are you now with your cancellation and no show rate and what’s your target metric? You need to educate the patient on the value of attending and their role in achieving the outcomes and you need to track and trend those reasons for cancellation. Understand your access and wait time for new patient evals is important. And lastly, consider making it part of your performance review or an incentive program that you had with your therapist.

If you follow those keys to success, you’re bound to have better patient attendance and ultimately better outcomes that you can promote in the community and with referral sources.

Doug Cundiff of Net Health

Doug oversees Net Health 360 Professional Services for Rehab Therapy. With 22 years of experience in Rehab Therapy, Doug is an industry guru for best business practices in therapy settings.

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