You—or your front office staff—may be incredibly organized, but that doesn’t mean your patients share your appreciation for schedules. While therapists define “cancellation” many different ways, there’s no gray area with no-shows. If a patient fails to appear for a scheduled appointment and fails to notify you, it’s a no-show. And these are all-around detrimental to your practice: your business is affected in terms of both time and money; you don’t get to do the job you love; and your patients don’t get the help they need. So, how do we reduce these problematic no-shows? Here are four tips for decreasing patient no-shows:

Billing - Regular BannerBilling - Small Banner

Appointment Reminders

In a Practitioner's Journey article entitled “How to Reduce Cancellations, Reschedules and No-Shows: Our Strategy,” the first suggestion the author offers is to make a reminder call: “Appointment cards are helpful, but in the end, a phone call is your best bet.” How much of a best bet? An article on American Medical News explains that a patient is significantly more likely to keep an appointment when he or she receives a phone call reminder, according to a study from the June American Journal of Medicine.

Now, in a perfect world, you and your entire staff would have the time to personally call every one of your patients to remind them about their appointments. However, the same study explains that busy practices “frequently have a hard time fitting in these calls, which means that sometimes they don't happen at all.” Furthermore, the same study questioned the cost-effectiveness of personal phone calls.

What’s the compromise? Automatic text, email, and call reminders. There are countless case studies showing how phone and text message reminders save thousands of labor hours, increase revenue dramatically, and decrease patient no-shows—all in addition to saving you time and guaranteeing the reminders actually get made. And depending on which service you choose, they’re easy to use and fairly customizable. With WebPT’s automated appointment reminders, for example, you simply select the method and interval best suited for each patient when you schedule his or her next appointment.

Schedule Management

Your clinic might have a flawless scheduling system. I know with WebPT’s Scheduler, you can create some very beautiful—and optimized—calendars. However, no matter how beautiful your calendar is, you must make sure it can hold up to no-showers. In a blog post titled, “30 Ways to Reduce Patient No-Shows,” the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) advises practices to schedule accurately to avoid long wait times for patients. Practitioner's Journey agrees in this post: “If you want patients to respect your time, then you need to start that process by respecting theirs. Make sure you stay on time. Don’t reschedule patients. Keep regular office hours.” If patients don’t feel you value their time, they might not respect yours—which means they may miss appointments without notice.

That being said, patients must still understand that you’re busy, so book tightly. Sometimes the looser your schedule, the more reschedules you’ll encounter. Patients may figure they can get an appointment some other day—no big deal. When you effectively and efficiently schedule appointments, though, you illustrate to patients that it is indeed a big deal. But understand that running a tight ship is very different than overbooking. As Practitioner's Journey explains, “overbooking to deal with last-minute scheduling changes is like treating symptoms instead of causes—it’s not getting to the root of the problem. In fact, just like running late, it’s probably creating more of them.” Of course, no-shows will still occur. And when they do, consider having a list of patients who are available for short-notice appointments. That way, you can contact them to fill emptied spots.

Are your patients bailing on therapy because they’re confused about their insurance coverage—or getting angry with you because they misunderstood what insurance would actually pay? Download your free copy of The PT Patient’s Guide to Understanding Insurance today. That way, you and your staff will be well-equipped to help your patients navigate the increasingly confusing world of insurance benefits before it becomes an issue—and turns into a no-show.

Patient Management

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there are many ways in which rehab therapists define cancellation. No matter your definition, though, make sure you document your stance on it. Create a written no-show and cancellation policy, and provide it to your patients. Within this policy, consider how you want to disincentivize no-shows. Consider these suggestions from the MGMA:

  • Place a nominal charge on your patient's bill that will clear when the patient shows up for the appointment. If the patient does not show, he or she will pay the charge.
  • Allow patients to prepay for their next appointment, strengthening their reason to return.
  • Reward patients who show up on time by discounting their bill (just be sure those discounts don’t violate any laws or contractual obligations).
  • Discharge patients who accumulate a set number of no-shows in a year.
  • Charge for same-day cancellations, unless it's an emergency.
  • Conduct prize drawings for all patients who show up on time in a given month.

In addition to creating a policy (and sticking to it!), make sure patient contact information is current. Whenever a patient makes an appointment, you should not only confirm his or her contact and demographic information, but also have the patient repeat the date and time of his or her next appointment. Whether the patient is standing in front of you or communicating with you via phone, your repetition will increase the patient’s chances of remembering.

Patient Satisfaction

In her book Mastering Patient Flow, Elizabeth Woodcock, MBA, FACMPE, CPC, recommends practitioners build strong patient relationships to reduce the number of no-shows, because such relationships increase a patient’s commitment to the practice and treatment. As we’ve discussed in several other posts, rehab therapists must make sure patients are satisfied with their services. After all, some patients don’t show up for their appointments because they weren’t happy with their last one. Furthermore, exceptional care coincides with engagement. Get your patients excited about, and invested in, their treatment plans. Progress—and praise of said progress—will only increase their commitment. (Hint: Check out how this practice used WebPT Outcomes to better measure and communicate patient progress, thereby boosting patient satisfaction and engagement.)

Practice Management and Reporting

In this blog post, MGMA encourages practitioners to evaluate their practice management system to see if it offers any tracking of no-shows and cancellations. MGMA also advises practices to switch to an advanced scheduling system that allows for same-day appointment booking and rearranging. Lucky for you, WebPT can do both of those. Our enhanced scheduler offers you and your front office full flexibility. And through reporting, you can obtain valuable metrics on your patients.

The Lost Patient Log

As we discussed here, the Lost Patient Log is the perfect tool for identifying active patients who don’t have any future appointments on the schedule (see the column on the right in the screenshot below). That way, you can peruse the list and target patients who may be MIA.


The Productivity Report

In addition to displaying the number of patients each therapist has seen as well as the types of documents they have completed, WebPT’s productivity report provides the raw number of cancellations and no-shows. While you can’t dive deeper into that aspect of the report just yet, WebPT is preparing to launch an all-new analytics tool that will enable therapists, administrators, and owners to gain a much more thorough understanding of their patients’ attendance patterns. Stay tuned to the WebPT Blog—and your inbox—for more information about that launch, which will take place later this year.

Okay, so when we get down to brass tacks, this was actually way more than four tips. Still, I hope you found them valuable. And I want more! What’s your advice for reducing no-shows? What experiences do you have with the aforementioned tips?

  • The Role of the Front Office in Patient Retention Image

    articleJun 28, 2017 | 5 min. read

    The Role of the Front Office in Patient Retention

    In the words of the great William Shakespeare, “All the world's a stage; and all the men and women merely players.” Whether we’re talking about the world’s stage or an actual stage, the success of every great performance hinges on each actor’s ability to fully embrace his or her role. In the case of a rehab therapy ensemble, each role is instrumental to ensuring the success of the entire practice. And when it comes to measuring that …

  • Turn Your No-Shows into Yes-Shows Image

    articleMar 3, 2014 | 7 min. read

    Turn Your No-Shows into Yes-Shows

    As sports rehabilitator Heidi Dawson writes in  this article : “No-shows [are] the bane of a therapist’s existence.” We’re inclined to agree. You’ve got your schedule precisely booked—often down to the minute—and a no-show or late cancellation can turn your well-balanced plan for the day into a disheveled mess of frantic “are-you-still-coming?” phone calls followed by thumb-twiddling boredom. Oh, and then there’s the lost time and revenue to consider. Despite how frustrating no-shows can be, though, all …

  • What You Need to Know About Calculating Expenses Image

    articleAug 12, 2014 | 3 min. read

    What You Need to Know About Calculating Expenses

    We briefly talked about totaling up expenses in order to calculate your net cost per visit in a previous post , but today, let’s take a deeper dive into the expenses side of things. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting topic, but it’s necessary nonetheless, so here we go. Below are four metrics to help you get a handle on the costs of doing business (adapted from this article ): 1. Wages divided by net revenue. Rehab …

  • Knock Out Patient Dropout: 8 Ways to Increase Retention and Revenue Image

    webinarFeb 12, 2018

    Knock Out Patient Dropout: 8 Ways to Increase Retention and Revenue

    In one corner, we have a highly skilled rehab therapy provider known for delivering amazing clinical outcomes through noninvasive, movement-based treatment. And in the other corner, we have a discouraged, disengaged patient whose quality of life has taken a major hit due to musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction. [video://]   If you’re a rehab therapy provider, you’ve probably seen this battle play out more times than you can count—and we’re betting that more often than not, your therapy …

  • Retention, Please: Why Patient Dropout is Killing Rehab Therapy Practices— and How to Stop It Image

    downloadApr 24, 2018

    Retention, Please: Why Patient Dropout is Killing Rehab Therapy Practices— and How to Stop It

    Patient health is the top priority for most rehab therapists—specifically, getting patients back to a level of health that allows them to do what they love. But, when patients say “sayonara” before they reach their therapy goals, they lose the opportunity to live their fullest lives. To make matters worse, the average rehab therapy practice will lose $150,000 annually due to patient dropout alone. Talk about a one-two punch to the gut. Here at WebPT, we believe …

  • What Happens if Your Physical Therapy Software Goes Out of Business? Image

    articleJul 15, 2016 | 7 min. read

    What Happens if Your Physical Therapy Software Goes Out of Business?

    You’ve most likely heard the news: PTOS is going out of business. That means that in a few short months, PTOS customers will be left without a physical therapy practice management and billing software solution, so they’ve got to find new systems—stat . After all, no one wants to lose all of their valuable patient and business data—nor do they want to wait until the last minute to find a replacement. Shopping for a PTOS alternative, partnering with …

  • Common Questions from Our Physical Therapy Patient Retention Webinar Image

    articleMar 28, 2018 | 12 min. read

    Common Questions from Our Physical Therapy Patient Retention Webinar

    Strive Labs co-founders Ryan Klepps and Scott Hebert recently joined WebPT president Heidi Jannenga for an insightful webinar about improving patient retention and reducing early patient drop-out. We know this is a super-relevant topic, especially because the cost of diminishing patient visits represents a $6 billion problem that not many people in the industry are talking about—at least not yet. As a result, we received a slew of great questions that we couldn’t get to live on …

  • 4 Keys to Keeping a Steady Cash Flow Image

    articleMay 18, 2016 | 5 min. read

    4 Keys to Keeping a Steady Cash Flow

    As a private practice clinic owner, you’re probably familiar with the cold sweat-inducing struggle to keep a steady cash flow. Claims management muck-ups, inefficient processes, staff issues, and lack of insight into your clinic’s financial health can leave you feeling like you’re riding a revenue rollercoaster. So, whether you’re trying to maximize reimbursements , combat employee theft , or optimize patient payments , these four keys to maintaining a steady cash flow will help you even out …

  • How to Better Manage Your Staff Within WebPT Image

    articleJan 11, 2016 | 4 min. read

    How to Better Manage Your Staff Within WebPT

    Businesses are like ecosystems—and that analogy certainly applies to rehab therapy practices. There are many factors that influence how a business operates. Everything has to be in balance; otherwise, every part of your practice feels the impact—from your patients to your front office staff. So, how do you keep your ecosystem healthy? Part of it comes from having the right staff —and a solid management system—in place. But, you also need the right tools to propel your …

Achieve greatness in practice with the ultimate EMR for PTs, OTs, and SLPs.