As a therapist, you’ve dedicated your professional life to supporting others.
You know your education and skills will likely benefit them greatly, but it’s not always an easy or short road. It may take months or years of work to help them reach the place of peace and resolution they’re seeking.
After each appointment, you know you’ve made progress — you’ve started to see changes — even if they haven’t noticed yet.
You stress that it’s in their best interest to stay consistent with their scheduled appointments. If they don’t show up, they may lose some of the important progress they’ve made.
But once they leave your office, it’s ultimately up to them to make the decision to come back.
This creates a double-edged sword. For any appointment-based business, missed appointments are bad news. But for therapists, these relatively minor lapses can also lead to huge setbacks in patient treatment and recovery.
It keeps an open dialogue between you and your patients, removing the underlying “gray areas” that often lead to missed sessions.
Meanwhile, therapists who give their patients their next appointment scribbled on the back of a business card may never see them return.
Let’s take a look at how appointment issues can affect both therapists and patients, and how an automated solution can help.
Impact on the practice
Time after time we see studies that prove missed appointments and late arrivals have huge effects on healthcare practices, and therapist offices are no different.
Missed appointments don’t simply cause a minor inconvenience. They can dramatically impact the efficiency and effectiveness of an entire practice, draining resources and diminishing revenue.
One recent study found that, collectively, missed appointments cost the U.S. medical system a total of $150 billion each year. So it’s nothing to scoff at.
Common issues that arise from appointment scheduling problems:
- Missed revenue
- Decreased efficiency (fewer patients treated per day)
- Longer wait times
- Frustrated staff
- Unhappy patients
- General disorganization
And these issues — financial and otherwise — will eventually be passed onto patients in one way or another, meaning that their level of service and value is impacted.
With appointment reminder, messaging and booking automation, you can care for your patients and business much more efficiently. These communications put the hard work in so your clients have the info they need to succeed, and you have the consistency your business needs.
Impact on patients
As a therapist, discouraging missed appointments is not only important to keep your practice running smoothly, but it’s also important for the wellbeing of your patients.
Studies have shown that missed appointments can have a significant impact on patients receiving effective treatment.
Although this is not always an easy problem to solve, sometimes the solution may be as simple as identifying small barriers that often stop patients from getting the help they need. Creating systems and processes that help patients stick to their scheduled sessions can have a huge impact on the outcomes of their treatment.
Studies often attribute missed therapy appointments to a few key issues, and each of them can be taken into consideration when looking for possible solutions:
1. Practical matters and/or forgotten appointments
One of the most common reasons for missed therapy appointments are simple logistical issues: last-minute meetings, unscheduled emergencies, or simply forgetting the specified date and time.
In the case of these issues, it’s clear that a reminder, communication and booking platform can assist the practice in providing practical reinforcement that’s necessary to keep patients on time and on schedule. Or in the case of an unavoidable conflict, patients can communicate as quickly when they need to change their appointment, giving staff an opportunity to respond appropriately.
Although some of these causes may require extra effort and planning to overcome, the good news is that a sizeable portion can be addressed with the same kind of systems that help meet the needs of the practice.
Appointment tracking and reminder systems can provide much of the needed information and encouragement for patients while also improving operations and creating a smoother system within the practice.
2. Clinical reasons
In many cases, some of the very problems that lead a patient to seek help can become a barrier for their continuing to receive care.
For many patients, there may be a great deal of anxiety around appointments. These patients may require extra motivation or coaching to encourage them to continue to receive help. This can come in the way of regular communications or reinforcement about the benefits of treatment.
3. Lack of information
Sometimes, a lack of information — or the illusion of being uninformed — can prevent a patient from making it to their appointment.
This generally manifests for first-time or newer patients who have unanswered questions regarding location, what to expect, or even where to park.
You should address these issues by doing a careful review of your communications with scheduled clients, pinpointing what information may be missing, and finding ways to better communicate those details in advance of their arrival.
Make use of a tool like Apptoto to customize SMS reminders and messaging so your correspondence fits the needs of your clients perfectly.
4. “Permission” to miss appointments
Many practices have adopted various techniques and strategies for combating no-shows, often levying fees or penalties for patients who miss or cancel their regular meetings.
In some instances these practices may be justified, but in the case of patients receiving regular therapy, it may not be the right approach.
At least one study has concluded that punitive approaches may have the opposite of the intended effect, specifically when dealing with therapy appointments.
If a small disincentive or punishment is associated with missing or cancelling an appointment, then the patient may come to see this as permission to do so. As long as they are willing to accept the repercussions, they are free to choose not to attend.
This indicates that these type of disincentives may not help solve issues with missed appointments and instead could serve to exacerbate them. It may be more appropriate to rely on positive reinforcement via SMS or even loyalty rewards rather than punitive actions.
5. Motivational issues
Some patients make appointments with therapy providers when they are feeling particularly down, overwhelmed, or in need of help.
Unfortunately, there’s usually a delay between the time that the patient is seeking treatment and the time when they are scheduled to meet with a provider. During this period, their condition may change — sometimes dramatically.
Come the day of their appointment, they may feel like they no longer need to speak to a therapist. But this can, of course, be an unhealthy decision to make.
Nevertheless, many patients will choose to cancel or simply skip their appointment if they no longer feel motivated to seek the treatment they originally felt was necessary. Your practice can help diminish these instances by communicating with your patient about the benefits — both immediate and long term — of attending.
This may require you to provide specific messaging to them expressing these things; just this small reminder may serve as a catalyst for motivation.
As you well know, finding active solutions to pain points within your business is key to running a successful practice.
So, seek answers and find what works for you and your patients.
It’s well worth your time.