LAST REVIEWED Feb 25 2020 9 MIN READ
By Cyndia Zwahlen
Missed appointments are costly for any small service-focused business: no-shows and last-minute cancellations mean lost revenue from the missed appointment, plus the opportunity cost of appointments that could have been booked in that slot. Those surprise gaps schedule also increase administrative overhead with follow-up calls and rebooking.
And missed appointments aren’t a rarity, either. According to one study, the no-show rate at outpatient procedures hit 37.4%; anyone in the restaurant, beauty, medical, or really any service industry can attest to having similar problems. If your practice has even five no-shows a week at, say, $125 in lost fees per appointment, you’ll be out $32,500 a year – enough to afford a full-time employee. Can you afford to ignore that lost income?
Research shows that reminders – phone calls, texts, emails, or even postcards – can reduce no-show rates, but sending those reminders are an administrative burden in their own right. To keep productivity and revenue high, service businesses often need a comprehensive solution that offers:
An easy way for customers to make or edit appointments
Automated reminders as the appointment approaches
(Potentially) some sort of penalty for no-shows
Whether you’re a medical or dental office, chiropractor, spa, salon, or restaurant, you can benefit from an easy-to-use appointment reminder software – either standalone programs or features in larger, comprehensive practice management software systems. Here are some tips to help you evaluate and choose an appointment reminder system.
Chart your workflow
Take time to think about your office workflow so you can judge whether a particular appointment reminder software program will be a fit. Include not just your office manager, but your IT specialist and at least one client-facing employee (such as a healthcare provider, administrative assistant, or hair stylist) in the decision-making process. Create a simple workflow diagram and note each point that your office will interact with an appointment reminder.
Of course you’ll want a program to work with any workflow software already in place, such as a scheduling program. That way you can avoid duplicate efforts, for example having to enter the same information, like a patient or customer name or appointment time, in more than one place. Minimalism is ideal when it comes to technology.
Protect patient privacy
If you deal with sensitive patient information (for example, if you have a medical practice), you’ll have to ensure that whichever vendor or product you choose is HIPAA-compliant (it meets privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act).
First, if you do collect protected health information and share it with your vendor, you will need your vendor to sign a Business Associate contract, to ensure that it complies with federal and state laws meant to safeguard your patients’ protected health information. Certain patient information may need to be omitted from appointment reminder communications, such as the person’s physical or mental health condition.
If you decide to use a vendor that houses your patient data on remote servers, ask if its remote servers are in the U.S. A data breach may be harder to address if you have to deal with non-U.S. law enforcement.
Finally, be sure to do a basic check on the financial strength and HIPAA compliance history of any vendor you are considering and look at the background of its principals, including any legal issues. This will take only about 30 minutes, but could avoid costly future headaches.
Functions and features
Most appointment reminder software programs offer a variety of bells and whistles. Choose the ones that are important to you, and avoid paying for ones that aren’t. Some typical functions include:
Texts, emails or phone calls
Most appointment reminder software allows you to choose one or more ways to automatically communicate with your clients. You may want the option to customize your message content and how often it will be sent.
Depending on the software, you can allow patients or customers to respond to you. It could be a simple reply with a “C” to confirm via a text message or a confirm button in an email. If the person wants to cancel or reschedule, they can be directed to call the office or reschedule within an app. Not every practice will want to allow two-way communication because patients are more likely to cancel on the spot if they don’t have to talk with a real person first.
Some programs are designed for a specific industry, like WebPT, which was started by a physical therapist and is now a lead, full practice-management software, including automated appointment reminders, for physical therapist offices.
Some programs generate reports to show cancellation and no-show rates, overhead time, and so on. These reports can help you identify inefficiencies and decide whether the software is worth the cost.
Some vendors, like ReminderCall.com, have pay-as-you-go plans that charge you each reminder is sent. Others, particularly ones that require customization or installation, typically charge a setup fee and may require a contract.
Best appointment reminder software
Popular with spas, hair salons, yoga studios, and more, MINDBODY offers convenient online scheduling and rescheduling as well as appointment reminders. They also provide marketing tools as add-ons. It’s pretty expensive – $75 a month for the most basic plan – but it offers a lot more than simple appointment reminders.
A lightweight solution with plans starting at $49 a month, AppointmentReminder.org does what it says – automated or custom phone, text, or email reminders. It’s also HIPAA-compliant.
Although no software will completely eliminate no-shows, the right appointment reminder program can cut the empty spots in your practice schedule and pay for itself in almost no time.
Appoint.ly has a sleek user interface and allows for online scheduling, real-time availability options, reminders, and personalized intro messages. It’s free, but the paid plan ($10 a month or $8 a month when paid annually) also offers a team dashboard and analytics.
Jituzu offers scheduling and appointment reminders, as well as a messaging portal to let you communicate with your clients, credit card processing, a mobile app, and more. At $7.95 a month for appointment reminder software, it’s more expensive than some of the other software listed, but it’s also HIPAA-compliant and offers more bells and whistles.
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Cyndia Zwahlen, a former small-business columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is a freelance business writer and editor for media, academic and business clients. She founded the Small Biz Mix blog.