Patient Reminders: Beyond 1 and Done

Patients Know Convenience

Patients are not just a patient in a practice, they are also consumers in a world of increasing convenience and electronic communications.  Patient reminders are but a few of the several hundred communications a patient receives every day.  Corporate America is driving towards an ever increasingly relevant and personal message to their customers and doctors should too.

What are practices up-against?


Book a flight, buy some tires or join a wholesale club, at the very least a consumer will get a confirmation of their specific transaction.  Buy online and you will get a link to the progress of the shipping.  Airlines even offer a helpful look at the weather along with your text about checking-in.

These communications are successful because they offer distinct data relevant to the user, not a one size fits message.

Best practice for healthcare


For appointment confirmations and reminders, the minimum relevant data to include in the communication is:

  • The doctor’s name
  • The exact location, including phone number

No-shows cost the practice, but an unprepared patient that shows-up and has to come back has a brutal effect on a practice.  Do not assume that a patient understands what is going on, most have never worked in a medical practice!

To help reduce unprepared patients, appointments should be booked with specific appointment types or reason codes.  This information can be used to customize each message.  ‘This appointment is for a fasting lab draw, please remember not to eat after midnight’, will save a lot of aggravation in the morning.

Once is not enough


Our research is clear, the longer the time from when the appointment was made to the actual appointment time, the more likely the patient is to no-show.

For an appointment made several months in advance, a reminder 1 month before the appointment has significant value.

There is still enough time for the patient, even if they forgot and there is plenty of time for the practice to schedule another patient if the original patient had to cancel.

The vast majority of typical reminder phone calls will go to voicemail and if it does get read, its later in the afternoon/evening.  Even if the patient calls the next day, for practices that only send 1 reminder 48 hours ahead of time, that leaves less than 24 hours to schedule someone else.

We call it Pre-Visit Workflow


 There is a lot of work to do after a patient decides they want an appointment.  Especially for new patients.  Besides confirmations and reminders, practices need lots of data to support the patient visit.

Practices are learning that old-fashioned paper forms are creating a log jam at check-in and are not a very good way to retain data, even if scanned.

Questions to ask

With a better system, new questions come to mind:

  • Patients are busier and more mobile than ever before, for unorganized patients, how do you get their attention about the appointment?
  • How do you want patients welcomed into your practice? As new patients?  When they arrive in the office?
  • What administrative tasks could patients master via phone or portal?
  • What functions would you like to have online for your patients?
  • What do your patients need to know to arrive fully prepared for their appointment?


Patients are customers of organizations that spend significant time and effort to deliver relevant and specific messages to them.  Communication methods will continue to evolve and practices will need to collect more data from patients.  Managing no-shows goes well beyond reminders, patients are busier than ever too.  Pre-Visit workflows make sure that even if a no-show cannot be avoided, the practice has time to recover and schedule another patient.