Patient appointment cancellation has been a thorn in the side of many a care provider for several years. They’re a normal enough occurrence- peoples’ lives are hectic and oft unpredictable. Unfortunately, in the case of a healthcare appointment, that blocked off time slot is much more valuable than the average appointment anywhere else. An appointment that is taken for granted or not adequately prepared for could be the one that’s desperately needed by a different patient who is now left without. 

Unfortunately, with recent developments such as COVID-19’s constantly ebbing and flowing infection rates and the fact that hospitals are beginning to reopen for non-essential procedures, patient cancellations and delays are sure to run more rampant than ever. 

Hospitals have done a wonderful job addressing rising infection concerns with the implementation of social distancing and antimicrobial hardware such as medical grade computers, but reservations clearly still remain. According to a recent article from The Telegraph, foot traffic in certain healthcare facilities have yet to reach 25% of their previous numbers despite facilities re-opening their doors for non-essential surgeries. 

There’s rhyme and reason to all of this, of course. And when asking how to keep patients from cancelling appointments, it’s important to first ask why these cancellations are happening in the first place. 

Why do Patients Cancel Appointments?

Patients have been cancelling appointments since well before the outbreak of COVID-19 for a number of reasons. From financial issues and nerves to convenience and availability issues, there’s no shortage of reasons for last minute patient cancellations and delays. Now, however, there’s even more reason as fear of infection is a very real, very justifiable cause for concern and avoidance of a doctor’s appointment.

Many patients, despite being told facilities are now safe enough to warrant coming in for non-essential procedures, are still worried they might be at risk of infection, especially if the facility in question has been known to treat COVID cases. Many patients, according to The Telegraph’s earlier post, have even begun researching whether or not facilities had dedicated units for treating COVID patients and have begun prioritizing visiting “non-COVID” hospitals. 

The problem we see today is a dual-pronged one as well. While cancellations are still rampant, hospitals are also experiencing a rush of new patients now that a backlog of appointment cancellations that took place when hospitals were ordered to limit services are now being rescheduled. This simultaneous rush of patients and sudden cancellations can make the average patient visit last much longer, likely making it more inconvenient for the patient and more likely for them to cancel and reschedule.

How to Keep Patients From Cancelling Appointments

Fortunately, there are some strategies that exist, some time-tested and proven and others more tailored towards the current state of the world, that can be employed to lower the rate of patient cancellations and delays. 

1.) Prepare Operations for the New Normal

It goes without saying that the healthcare space has changed forever. There’s no reality where we return from the current pandemic with hospitals and care facilities simply reverting back to the old ways. Preparing for the new status-quo will be essential in the coming years as hospitals fight to assure their patients they can be safely cared for in their facilities. 

Many have begun implementing staggered appointment setting in which appointments need to be set further apart from one another so as to limit crowds and transmission opportunities. In addition to appointment practices, staff will need to enhance infection control protocols with hardware such as medical tablets that are IP65 certified and optimized to stand up to multiple disinfections.

Furthermore, with non-essential surgical procedures now being offered once again, facilities will want to further bolster infection prevention specifically within the operating room. Updating anesthetic stations with medical computers can help in this regard in more ways than one. The right manufacturers can ensure these devices carry the  infection-conscious certifications and IEC60601-1 certification that allow for them to be safely used near patient devices without interrupting their operation. Not only does this protect patients and prepare your facility for empowered infection control, it also allows your staff to run hardware-based operations such as anesthesiology in the same room the patient is being treated in, allowing for more responsive care. 

2.) Communicate What’s Being Done to Keep Patients Safe

Medical hardware use cases during a pandemic are proven and may assuage the fears of your staff, but it’s important to also inform your patient-base about these solutions that are being implemented. Infection anxiety is in the forefront of most, if not all, patients’ minds. Facilities that are interested in opening back up for non-essential procedures need to address these pain points of their patients by educating them on all procedures and policies that have been enacted to limit patient and staff exposure. Thankfully, this can be done in a number of different ways. 

Patient-facing staff that deal with setting appointments, for example, can go through these procedures with patients over the phone as they set or even confirm their appointments. It’s important to keep in mind that the earlier you go through these procedures and calm patient concerns, the less likely an appointment cancellation becomes. 

If you want to make these procedures known even before the appointment setting process, you can also share them digitally through HIPAA compliant messaging with your patients or even through automated text messages. 

Finally, you can also share your ongoing efforts to protect patients online by making a post on your facility’s site. This allows your staff to really go in depth explaining infection control processes and also gives them a powerful  resource they can turn patients to if they express concerns over their safety.   

3.) Have a Clear Appointment Cancellation Policy

Patients need to understand, especially now, that your staff’s time is valuable and that time they’ve set aside for an appointment is time that could have gone to a patient in greater need. Therefore, in efforts to make this known and to diminish patient cancellations and delays, it’s recommended facilities create a widely-spread, easily understood appointment cancellation policy. 

In an appointment cancellation policy, staff will want to emphasize a few key points: 

  • A time-frame in which patients can cancel without penalization
  • Penalties for a sudden appointment cancellation or no-show
  • The process for rescheduling an appointment 

Many facilities have also found it effective to appeal to their patients’ more empathetic sides in order to get across how important it is for them to cancel early should they know in advance they won’t be able to make it.

Following this appointment cancellation policy template, a simple disclaimer you can place in an email or text to a patient with an upcoming appointment could be something along the lines of: 

“Please Note: We request at least a 24 hour notice to cancel appointments in order to avoid a $25 cancellation fee. We ask for this notice so we may have enough time to give your appointment slot to other patients who may need it should you not be able to make it. We appreciate your understanding.”

Making these policies clear and easy to follow while also explaining your reasoning can provide a multi-pronged incentive for your patients not to suddenly cancel. 

4.) Start Confirming Appointments

Confirming appointments will by no means completely eliminate patient cancellations or delays, but doing so can give patients one more chance to cancel early, allowing you to schedule a different patient. In order to allow for enough of a buffer, consider reaching out to patients a day or two before their appointments regardless of how you plan on contacting them. 

Thankfully, the confirmation process can be entirely automated with messaging software such as Weave. With processes like these, all patients have to do is respond with a yes or no as to whether or not they can make it.

If you plan on using automation like this, the type of wording and messaging you use can have a huge impact on whether or not an appointment cancellation occurs. Consider emphasizing the benefits for patients that come in for their appointments. For example, explain how patients who come in for their regular checkups are more likely to maintain better health because they can adjust their lifestyles and habits more effectively. Sometimes, this small reminder can motivate a patient to suck up the inconvenience of a visit and drop by. 

Re-emphasizing any penalties you may have for patient cancellations and delays can also incentivize patients to either come in or give up their slot for another patient in need.  

5.) Make Scheduling and Keeping Appointments Easier

More often than not, patients are cancelling appointments due to issues of convenience. While recent times have certainly added a few more reasons for patients to be hesitant to drop by for appointments, convenience remains one of their primary concerns when it comes to making good on their doctor visits. 

As a facility looking to address these concerns, investing in programs, such as telehealth, that make appointments easier to plan, schedule, and engage in can help raise appointment adherence numbers. 

Telehealth technology is something many facilities have begun adopting en-masse as a result of the global pandemic’s effect on their ability to run normal patient care efforts. Fortunately, the process has been so beneficial and convenient for both patients and staff that many are expressing their desires to maintain remote care even after the pandemic settles.  

For those interested in investing in telehealth solutions, hardware such as medical tablets or battery powered medical monitors can provide staff with lightweight workstations that can be easily wheeled into secluded rooms where they can have remote appointments with their patients.  Using these solutions for quick check ins, appointments, and especially triaging for symptoms can help make visits go by much quicker, making patients more likely to keep their appointments while also allowing physicians to see more patients with their limited availability. A win-win for both sides involved! 

Addressing an Appointment Cancellation is About Cushioning the Blow

Learning how to keep patients from cancelling appointments starts the same way as any other approach to addressing a patient population’s pain point. By taking the time to learn why patients cancel appointments and using those insights to shape how you cut down on those appointment cancellations, your team can begin to see promising results even during these exceedingly trying times. For more information on how your team can get started in diminishing patient cancellations and delays, speak to an expert from Cybernet today.