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A digital scheduling workflow strategy can reduce no-shows and increase appointment confirmations

Insight Article - January 20, 2021

Operations Management

Quality & Patient Experience

Lea Chatham
In 2020, health organizations weathered the twin calamities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent decline in appointments and revenue. But what’s in store for the new year? Though we’re not out of the coronavirus storm yet and other challenges await, providers and patients alike are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccine distribution continues. States are receiving ongoing allotments of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and dispersing them as quickly as possible based on a prioritized rollout.
 
What obstacles do healthcare providers face now as the rollout continues and patients anticipate receiving the COVID-19 vaccine? Already, logistical distribution issues have slowed expectations to have 20 million people vaccinated by the beginning of January, with only a quarter of the vaccine administered.
 
One ongoing hurdle will be educating and informing patients when the vaccine is available to them and then scheduling both doses and ensuring patients show up. At the same time, providers need to be thinking about getting patients to come in for much-needed care after staying away from the doctor’s office last year. And they need to do it knowing that about 60% of patients still expect at least some of their care to be virtual.
 
To pull all this off, providers should consider a new strategy for their scheduling and pre-appointment workflow. To operate more efficiently as an organization and fill up the appointment schedule, it will be critical to create a single workflow that supports both in-person and telehealth visits. With no-show rates hovering between roughly 20% and 35%, an approach that reduces costly no-shows and late cancellations while increasing reminder confirmations is vital to success.
 
Automating as much as possible of the patient scheduling communications not only saves time but will also help with planning, ensuring the organization knows who has confirmed, cancelled and rescheduled.
 
The ideal digital workflow consists of appointment reminders, pre-visit instructions, electronic intake forms, patient education, surveys and other message touchpoints that help ensure patients arrive for care on-time and prepared. It’s critical to emphasize here that text messaging is the key delivery tool for this workflow. Not only is texting now the preferred way for most people to communicate, it’s also the way most patients want to connect with their providers.
 
When creating a pre-appointment workflow that supports both in-person and telehealth visits you’ll want to include these central elements:
  • Identify each patient’s preferred method of communication, whether it be texting, email or phone.
  • Establish a reminder cadence that is proven to produce results in increasing confirmations and reducing late cancellations and no-shows. Research bears out that the one of the best reminder cadences is 3-3-3: a message at three weeks, a message at three days, and a message at 3-5 hours before the appointment.
  • Deliver detailed pre-visit instructions tailored to whether the visit is in-person or telehealth.
  • Ensure you have the ability to send patients valuable links and instructions.
  • Send patient forms through text or email to be completed ahead of time.  

Taking a digital approach to pre-appointment interactions like intake can help alleviate patients’ fears while making sure that they show up for appointments. Digital intake also aids in reducing office expenses, improving accuracy on forms, protecting patient privacy and enhancing the patient experience.
 
Another timely component of this workflow model is the ability to automate the dissemination of patient education information. The general public has lots of questions about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine as well as ongoing safety protocols. Organizations can help allay their fears by providing them with well-sourced vaccine resources, including frequently asked questions (FAQs), articles that dispel common myths about the vaccine, and the latest updates about the vaccine’s distribution and availability in their area.
 
The new year will certainly present fresh challenges and opportunities to healthcare organizations with telehealth becoming a new normal and the COVID-19 vaccine becoming more widely available. Providers that adopt a digital pre-appointment workflow model will be more successful in ensuring their schedules are full and that patients are prepared for their visits.

About the Author

Lea Chatham
Lea Chatham
Director, Marketing Programs SR Health

Lea Chatham is the director of marketing programs at SR Health by Solutionreach, the leader in patient engagement solutions and innovation. She is responsible for developing educational resources to help healthcare organizations stay connected to patients throughout the care journey. Lea spent over five years leading engagement at a small integrated health system and has fifteen years of experience developing educational content for leading patient engagement, practice management and EHR companies.
 

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