Increase revenue and improve patient outcomes by following these steps
While all top mountain climbers are likely to agree that scaling the world’s highest peaks can be perilous, most are quick to point out the descent can be much more deadly.1 The hard work is done, and during the descent, climbers are tired and perhaps a little complacent. They’ve reached their goal, high-fived, snapped a few pictures … and the rest is literally all downhill.
For the less experienced, the combination of self-assuredness and fatigue can lead to unexpected difficulties – issues that must be avoided or overcome if they truly want to achieve optimal success. After all, what good is it to reach the top of the mountain if you can’t safely make it back to basecamp?
Mountain climbers, of course, are far from the only people who fall into this trap – that of focusing so much on reaching the peak they risk overlooking the fullest measures for success. Outpatient rehab therapy practitioners have their own version of this story, and it involves patient appointments. Too often, marketing and referral efforts focus on simply getting new and returning patients to schedule appointments. And, while a full slate of appointments is certainly a win for an outpatient clinic, does it always equal success?
On average, around 27% of these appointments are likely to be missed.2 This is a considerable slice of your day, a void that can immediately equate to lost revenue, poor productivity and negative patient outcomes. That is, unless you take proactive steps – we offer five effective strategies to avoid and overcome these potential hurdles.
Why Do Patients Miss Their Appointments?
The first step to being proactive in ensuring more patients show up to their scheduled appointments is to more fully understand the “whys” behind missed visits. With more than one-quarter of all appointments missed, you bet there’s been plenty of research out there focused on answering this very question.
- It Slipped My Mind: One study found that forgetfulness accounted for about 37% of all missed appointments.3 While we all forget at times, doing so can indicate too much time took place between scheduling and the appointment. Or the patient may not fully grasp the importance of the visit or treatments.
- Something Came Up: A personal issue, something at work, childcare fell through… these things happen. And, they account for around 16% of all missed appointments.4 With a little effort and planning, though, such issues can sometimes be predicted and overcome.
- I Couldn’t Get There: Approximately 7% of missed appointments are due to transportation issues5 – a missed ride, a broken-down car, no money for bus fare, and so on.
- I’m Anxious About Medical Care: Whether justified or not, negative emotions related to rehab therapy, your clinic specifically, or healthcare in general may cause a patient to no-show or cancel. This may have formed around a misunderstanding, a bad experience or a simple fear of the unknown.
What is the Cost of Missed Rehab Therapy Appointments?
Regardless of the reasons, no-shows and last-minute cancellations are costing your outpatient rehab therapy clinic money. How much?
- Each missed visit can cost a practitioner between $165 and $200.6
- Overall, patient no-shows are estimated to cost the U.S. healthcare market around $150 billion per year.7
- Following just a single missed appointment, a patient is two times more likely to stop treatments altogether.8
While these statistics drive home the financial impact missed visits have on individual clinics as well as the entire healthcare field, patients also feel a real impact. For example, when a single missed appointment spells the end of a patient’s plan of care, they are less likely to achieve their functional or performance goals. This can lead to worsening conditions that, down the road, may require more invasive and expensive treatments. Plus, unused rehab therapy timeslots represent missed opportunities for others who need access to rehab therapy treatments.
Needless to say, missed appointments play a disproportionate role in the daily lives of outpatient rehab therapists. But, they don’t have to. Read on to learn five effective strategies for reducing last-minute rehab therapy cancellations and no-shows at your hospital outpatient clinic.
1. Get New Patients in the Door Quickly
It’s always great practice to roll out the red carpet whenever new rehab therapy patients come into your clinic. The level of satisfaction they feel during and after their first appointments will go a long way toward ensuring they come back for additional treatments. However, don’t wait for their arrival before delivering a VIP-level of service to new patients. Assure them you value their time and their health by offering an initial evaluation within 24 to 48 hours of their call. By shortening the time it takes for them to see a rehab therapist, you reduce the chances the appointment slips their minds. But more importantly for patients in a lot of discomfort or pain, you keep them from contacting other rehab therapy clinics in your area who might get them in quicker.
2. Educate Patients About Plan of Care Milestones
It should go without saying that patients who are uninvolved or have just a vague understanding of their plans of care (POCs) are more likely to miss future appointments. That’s why it behooves rehab therapists and clinicians to bend over backwards to ensure each patient has the information they need to fully understand and identify:
- Why rehab therapy is a necessary step in helping them achieve functional goals.
- Their full plan of care, including why each appointment and treatment is necessary for long-term health and wellness.
- Key milestones that will help ensure progress is being made and treatments are working as they should.
- Which at-home exercises may be required in order to achieve optimal wellness and functionality.
A thorough patient engagement strategy can be critical in ensuring all patients understand the path before them and the full impact of attending each scheduled appointment.
3. Establish Automated Appointment Reminders
Even when you achieve complete buy-in for a plan of care, patients are still people, and people are bound to overlook obligations from time to time. Remember, more than one-third of missed visits happen because people simply forget. That’s why it’s essential to invest in a system that ensures every patient receives one or a series of appointment reminders leading up to their visit. Based on one study, simple text-message reminders can reduce patient no-show rates by nearly 40%!9 By increasing frequency and using a variety of channels for sending your reminders (i.e., text, email and even phone calls), it’s possible to put an even larger dent in your no-show rate.
4. Accommodate Patients’ Personal Challenges
An evolving trend in healthcare is the collection and use of what’s called “social determinants of health,” or SDOH. These are defined as the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, work, play, grow, age, etc., which may affect health, function and quality of life. Included as SDOH data are people’s access to employment, safe transportation and childcare – all things that, when unstable, can affect a person’s ability to show up to their next appointments.
By training your rehab therapy team to comfortably discuss such social determinants with their patients, you can begin to identify issues that may negatively affect patients’ ability to complete their plans of care – issues you may be able to address before they become problems. If someone has transportation issues, for example, discuss ride-share options or offer them a telehealth appointment. Or, if treatment costs are likely to become an issue, discuss available payment plans that ensure their POC won’t be interrupted.
5. Forecast Missed Appointments Using an Intelligent Prediction Tool
We at Net Health® recently unveiled a first of-its-kind Missed Visit Prediction Indicator, a predictive analytics tool designed to reduce the costs associated with missed hospital outpatient rehab therapy visits. A powerful feature within the Net Health Therapy for Hospitals – Outpatient EHR solution, the tool analyzes several relevant patient-specific factors (i.e., demographics, timing, history, etc.) to objectively determine the likelihood patients will make or miss their next appointments. Once determinations are made, the Missed Visit Prediction Indicator flags patients with medium-to-high potential for missing their appointments.
From a business perspective, the most immediate benefit of utilizing our Missed Visit Prediction Indicator will be increased revenue. Besides this, the tool also helps clinics maintain the productivity of their rehab therapy teams by optimizing patient volume. Most importantly, however, engaged patients who attend their sessions regularly experience the best outcomes, which is also great for business!
- 1 Scientific American, “Death on Mount Everest: The Perils of Descent,” Dec. 10, 2008
- 2 National Library of Medicine, “Data Analytics and Modeling for Appointment No-Show in Community Health Centers,” Nov. 17, 2018
- 3,4,5 Journal of Family Medicine and Disease Prevention, “Why Do Patients Miss Their Appointments at Primary Care Clinics?” Sept. 28, 2018
- 6,7,8 Healthcare Innovation, “Missed Appointments Cost the U.S. Healthcare System $150B Each Year,” April 26, 2017