Industry Voices—5 steps to better patient engagement and no more no-shows

Healthcare providers who need to connect with patients have more competition than ever in grabbing their attention. Consumers are bombarded with calls and emails—particularly in this era of rampant robocalls—not to mention all the distractions from ads and social media. Yet communication that is critical to patients’ well-being needs to get through, because it’s rarely top of mind. 

Research shows the average person has trouble remembering when they had their last physical. Or when they are due for their next mammogram. Or whether their provider offers important preventive options, to name a few examples.

This communication gap gives healthcare providers the opportunity to reduce appointment no-shows and possibly grow revenue by becoming proactive advocates for their patients. Engagement tools such as online scheduling and automated text messages can help keep patients continuously up to date on their healthcare needs. The technology can also be used to book screenings, promote flu shots and let patients know when they are due for routine appointments.

Photo of woman
Sarah Bennight 
(Stericycle Communication Solutions)

However, a recent survey by Stericycle Communication Solutions of more than 400 physicians and healthcare professionals found such patient engagement strategies are lagging. Just 41% of these professionals use various methods to engage with patients to reduce no-shows and maximize revenue.

Patients are feeling this disconnect as well. A 2017 study (PDF) by CDW, a technology solutions provider, revealed that while 71% of healthcare providers say improving patient engagement is a priority in their organization, only 29% of patients would give their healthcare providers an “A” for their use of technology to interact with and engage patients.

In this era of convenient digital communication, patients want more than the standard appointment reminder. They want interactive communication with their physician’s office. They want the option to schedule an appointment online, confirm that appointment with a simple text message response or reschedule by clicking a link on their phone.

RELATED: Practices look to lower costly no-show patient rates

Engaging with patients in new ways can enhance their satisfaction and lead to better health outcomes, while also reducing patient no-shows to improve the organization’s bottom line. The good news is that the solution is relatively easy to execute. The following five steps can help healthcare providers deliver better omnichannel communication experiences that boost patient engagement.

1. Connect the way patients want to connect. Like most retail consumers today, patients expect to be communicated with wherever they are at any given moment. For many, the phone is today’s primary engagement device. A survey about preferred communication methods by ITProPortal found that text messages prevailed above emails and phone calls. More than three-quarters of consumers said text is more convenient, and two-thirds feel texts are less disruptive than voice calls.

By engaging with patients on their terms, healthcare practices can instill greater patient loyalty, causing patients to attend, return and remain in the health system.

2. Personalize communication. Patients want to be communicated with on their terms, but they also want that communication to be relevant and customized. According to Salesforce’s "State of the Connected Customer" report (PDF), 52% of consumers say they’d likely switch brands if a company didn’t make an effort to personalize communications to them.

Healthcare providers who heed this lesson will customize each appointment with messaging specific to preparation, including what to bring and when to arrive. This kind of personalized engagement ensures patients show up to their appointment on time and prepared. When patients don’t show up, are late or are unprepared, it causes unnecessary stress, scheduling changes and office disruptions beyond the lost revenue. Providing confirmations and rescheduling options with an appointment reminder reduces these areas of stress.

3. Engage through multiple and preferred channels. Although sending one simple appointment reminder reduces no-show rates, adding one or two additional reminders can cut these rates by more than half. 

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The aforementioned Stericycle survey showed that consumers generally prefer text messages as a first line of communication, but providers should consider augmenting outreach through multiple channels of communication—such as email and voice. Sending multiple reminders through several channels versus just one has proven to reduce no-show rates by 54%, according to the Stericycle research.

4. Incorporate preventive care engagement. Technology has helped make patients more involved in their health than ever before, with 1 in 6 people using wearables and health apps to track everyday health information. But great as they are, these devices and apps do not encourage patients to schedule appointments and visit their providers.

RELATED: Cleveland Clinic's path to a better patient experience began with a focus on empathy

The easiest and most effective way to get patients to the office is to engage often and empower them not only with information about when to visit but with other actions such as when to schedule a preventive care appointment. It reduces readmissions and increases the daily number of appointments. The most effective patient engagement solutions integrate with a provider’s electronic health record or practice management system to automate the ongoing engagement.

5. Engage beyond appointment reminders. Going beyond standard automated appointment reminders will not only improve patient behaviors, satisfaction and convenience but may improve the bottom line. A more comprehensive patient engagement approach would include:

  • Follow-up communication to keep patients continuously reminded
  • Program promotions on health-related workshops or encouraging patients to come in for services such as flu shots
  • Message broadcasts that alert patients of potential office closings due to weather events or for rescheduling needs
  • Billing reminders to help patients stay on track with their payments

Effective patient engagement is multifaceted. It means frequent communication. It means connecting with patients where and how it’s convenient for them. It means sending strategic communications with confirmation and rescheduling options. And it transcends basic appointment reminders. Healthcare providers that do it well will gain more loyal patients and potentially increase revenue.

Sarah Bennight is a marketing strategist for healthcare at Stericycle Communication Solutions.