It’s Not Too Late to Show Up on Time

Did you know no-shows and late arrivals cost the healthcare industry billions of dollars each year?  Studies show, on average, 18% of healthcare appointments are missed.1 If you have just 20 appointments per day on the calendar, that’s almost 1,000 per year. So how can you get people to show up, and show up on time?

The first step is to establish a reliable communication channel with patients before and after the appointment. This simple strategy has been demonstrated to significantly reduce no-show rates and late arrival rates while increasing patient retention. I’ve found sending two types of reminder messages (e.g. a text and a phone call) a day or two before an appointment can cut no-show rates by 50%. This assumes you’re not sending reminders currently.

Here are some helpful tips to cut your no-shows and late appointments.

1. Customize
You shouldn’t divulge too much information in the reminder, but you should mention why the appointment they’ve booked is important in general. Why? It will move up their priority list. For instance, recent media coverage has suggested annual exams aren’t effective, so reminding clients about why annual exams are important is likely to help keep it a priority.

2. Text
Studies show 97% of text messages received are read in their entirety2, whereas only 18% of voicemails are listened to if the number is unknown3. Lets face it: most calls go to voicemail these days.  I’ve also found that 30% of SMS messages are responded to, compared to 23% of automated voice calls answered by a human.

3. Location
Can you believe 30% of people we surveyed say they’ve missed an appointment because they didn’t know where they were supposed to go? You probably can. Adding a link in the text message reminder showing them exactly where to go is vital, especially if you have multiple office locations.

4. Running On-Time
One thing we’ve found is patients are more likely to show up on time if they think the doctor is on time. Set up a system that sends an automated text two hours before the appointment letting them know you and your staff are running on time, and that you look forward to seeing them at their scheduled appointment time.

5. Running Late
Late arrivals are a vicious cycle. One late arrival in the morning can delay the appointments for the rest of the day. Patients that experience the delay are then less likely to make it to their next appointment on time, because “the doctor is always late”. Make sure your reminder system has the ability to alert afternoon appointments if the doctor is running late.

6. Carrot vs. Stick
Cancellation policies are effective because 95% of patients believe they are real, based on our recent survey of patients. However, fees are rarely, if ever, actually assessed. The problem is they hurt retention and lead to habitually late or absent patients. Why? It’s simple: if a patient misses an appointment and they believe they will be charged if they come back to you, they are much less likely to come back. This is especially true for preventive care if the patient can easily switch providers. Reward-based policies, on the other hand, can be very effective (70% of people we surveyed said a reward would encourage them to arrive on time) and can increase retention. We’ve seen some providers begin to offer coupons for businesses nearby, or VIP status (giving patients preferred appointment time slots) if the patient arrives on time. The coupon approach is a win-win, the local business enjoys the referral and the provider sees a decrease in no-shows and late arrivals.

7. Follow Up
Patients who arrive on time are valuable. Set up an automated message to be sent (text or email) the day after their appointment thanking them for arriving on time and inviting them to schedule their next appointment, or even claim their reward (see No. 6).


  1. “Estimating the Cost of No-Shows and Evaluating the Effects of Mitigation Strategies.” Available at
  2. “Study: 90% of SMS Text Messages are Read within Minutes of Delivery.” Available at
  3. “Are You Still Checking Voice Mail?” Available at

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