We know automated text, phone, and email reminders improve patient attendance rates and help prevent cancellations and no-shows. But, what is the ideal send time and frequency for each type of reminder? Are text message appointment reminders the most effective, or do patients prefer to receive phone messages? According to our in-house experts, most rehab therapy clinics achieve good results by sending a reminder the day before a patient’s appointment. There’s much more to it than that, though. With that in mind, here’s everything we know about implementing the most effective patient appointment reminder system for your practice.
1. Automate appointment reminders. Full stop.
In today’s busy clinic environment, it’s simply not feasible to assign the appointment reminder task to an actual human being. Not only is this a surefire way to exhaust your front-office personnel (seriously, who wants to call 100-plus patients to confirm their appointments—and then do it again the next day?), but it’s also not cost-effective or efficient. That’s especially true considering there are software solutions that automate the entire process and ensure no patients fall through the cracks. It’s imperative that you unburden your staff from this mundane and repetitive task and give them something more important to do—preferably something that requires a human touch, like making the check-in and check-out process a lovely experience for your patients. But first, adopt a software that takes care of reminders (it’s super simple if your EMR has integrated scheduling and automated appointment reminder functionality, because that way, everything is already in one system).
2. Ask patients how they would like to be contacted.
Instead of assuming your patients want to be contacted via phone, email, or text, make it a point to ask. This can be as easy as adding an extra question to your intake form. Then, only provide reminders via each patient’s preferred delivery method to ensure those patients feel heard and respected. While some patients may really appreciate a phone call reminder, others will send that call straight to an already-full voicemail box, and that won’t do you—or them—any good.
3. Test the three-three-three rule—and skip the immediate reminder.
Last year, researchers studied 20 million patient appointments to determine the optimal reminder frequency. First, they found that an initial reminder sent immediately after the patient schedules an appointment has no effect on whether the patient will appear for that appointment. Good to know, right?
Conversely, reminders sent three weeks out from the date of the appointment were the most effective (79% of patients who received a reminder three weeks before their appointment confirmed that they would attend). However, keep in mind that this time frame may not be appropriate for PT, OT, or SLP patients who schedule appointments at a faster cadence.
Three (to Five) Days
Sending another reminder three to five days before the scheduled appointment resulted in even higher confirmation rates. This is perhaps because, as the author of the above-cited article notes, this is the minimum notice people require to adjust their work schedules around the appointment time.
Additionally, while sending a final reminder three hours before the appointment didn’t improve confirmation rates, it did help patients remember to attend their appointment that day.
4. Opt for afternoon reminders.
According to Doug Severson, AT Ret., WebPT Director of Product Management, and Frank Jones, PTA, ATC, WebPT Member Advocate, the most common practice for PT, OT, and SLP clinics is to send an appointment reminder the day before a patient’s scheduled appointment, which generally produces good results. So, if you’re not up for trying the three-three-three method—or even the three-three method, which would entail sending a reminder three to five days before as well as three hours before—then at the very least, remind patients the day before each appointment.
Severson and Jones also suggest sending reminders in the afternoon, because patients are more likely to remember to check their schedule and adjust it for the next day. On the contrary, if you send a reminder in the morning, patients may forget about it by the time they get home from work. If you’re a WebPT Member, you can easily change the settings on your automatic appointment reminders so they only go out between 12:00 PM and 6:00 PM, as pictured below.
Severson and Jones say they’ve seen a big shift over the last five years, with the majority of appointment reminders going out via text (as opposed to phone), which makes sense—but we still recommend confirming each patient’s preference to ensure the best results.
Have your own reminder system or cadence that works for your practice? We’d love to hear about it below. Or, if you implement any of the strategies listed here, let us know how they work for you.