We have all seen that one client that, no matter what we do, always seems to forget about her appointments. Let’s call her Laura. From “forgetting to write it in her calendar” to “accidentally deleting the voicemail,” Laura will make every excuse possible to not make it in. While it’s easy to blame her for not committing to her treatment plan, a better way to address this problem is by trying to understand the reasons behind missed appointments and helping your clients get the care they need, every time. Being able to address missed appointments will impact every part of your practice from increased business, decreased no-show rate, and most importantly, increased continuity of care for your clients.
Through our research, we have found three common reasons why clients miss their appointments:
1. Lack of flexibility
Inability or inconvenience in terms of getting to an appointment is one of the most common reasons for a missed appointment. From travelling to the office, getting the time off work or just fitting it into their schedule, clients face a number of challenges that prevents them from being able to attend a session. While there’s no way to completely solve this challenge, here are some ways that you can decrease these barriers for your clients:
Optimize appointment times
You already have a very busy practice, but being sensitive to your clients’ logistical challenges particularly around work schedules may prove to be extremely rewarding. By doing some quick analytics on which time windows specific clients were most likely to skip appointments, you can optimize your practice hours.
Offering online solutions such as telemedicine or voice calling can be an excellent substitute for clients that need some flexibility in their treatment plans. Whether it’s talking over the phone or setting up a video conference, this type of solution can ensure that you can deliver your care regardless of where you or your clients are.
While administrative work can sometimes feel like it’s taking away from your commitment to your clients, issues such as inefficient reminder systems or long windows between sessions can significantly contribute to your clients’ adherence. Here are some ways that you can make sure that the appointment is at the top of your client’s mind on the day of:
A review of 28 studies published between 2005 and 2015 demonstrated that sending an electronic appointment reminder to clients is an effective and operative method in improving appointment attendance in a healthcare setting. This number has gone up over the last 5 years. Adopting technologies that automate these tasks can not only help your clients stick to their appointments, but help take some administrative work off your to-do list as well!
Engaging between therapy sessions
Appointments could have varying intervals between sessions and this is entirely dependent on the client’s condition. While increasing the number of sessions may not be an option, using tools to engage with your client between appointments could increase their satisfaction and outcomes. Whether it’s providing educational tools to them over email or phone or asking them to complete surveys and questionnaires to give you a sense on how they’re doing, engaging with your clients could help them feel more committed to their plan.
3. Unresolved clinical symptoms, stigma and empathy
Highly intense clinical symptoms are often the reason your clients come to you in the first place but being able to provide an open and non-judgmental environment particularly during distress can go a long way in increasing adherence and improving outcomes.
Offering support in times of crisis
High intensity episodes for your clients are often the most challenging times but also one of the hardest times to engage, especially at an arm’s length. Providing materials over email or links to resources online can help your clients get the care they need during these times of crisis. While you may not be able to be there personally, you can ensure that your clients are supported by providing critical resources to get them through these challenging times.
Increase anonymity for clients
Unfortunately, mental health remains a taboo topic for many. While it has seen great progress within the last few years, stigma still can prevent some clients from reaching out for help because things that are seemingly simple such a parking in front of the mental health provider’s office can increase fear of judgement. Using online tools can help increase anonymity and help increase your clients’ confidence in the confidentiality of your services.
Providing empathy and understanding
You know this better than anyone — empathy and understanding are some of the most important aspects of the care that you provide. But sometimes, even the slightest of tendencies can appear judgmental to clients and might influence their decision to skip appointments. For example, let’s say Laura just went on a drinking binge the night before to deal with her recent breakup and that is fairly incompatible with your views on appropriate coping measures. Subtle changes in your eyes or body language can make her feel judged or offended and may make her feel uncomfortable. In situations such as these, try to be aware of unconscious reactions to your client’s stories and rather take empathic action.
Inspiring your clients to keep their appointments is a challenge for every provider, but reducing no-shows can be simple by offering online appointments through a secure virtual care software. However, using strategies to reduce these barriers may help you increase satisfaction, engagement and flow in your practice.