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  • Writer's pictureDr. Leslie Baumann

Does Your Medical Practice Have a No-Show Policy? (And Why It Should)

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

While no-shows and last-minute cancellations will likely always be a part of every medical practice, there are some things you can do to help reduce the frequency that they occur. One of the best tools you can use is developing and enforcing specific policies to incentivize showing up on time to scheduled appointments or providing adequate notice of a cancellation ahead of time. Read on to learn more about the importance of implementing these types of policies, as well as a few tips for creating your own.

The Benefits of Implementing an Effective No-Show Policy

The logistical benefits of taking steps to ensure that your patients are showing up on time are fairly self-evident. Without notice, your practice isn’t able to fill empty slots on the schedule, which translates to lost revenue. This added financial burden, however, doesn’t just stop there. With practices losing significant amounts of money due to no-shows that accumulate over the course of the year, that cost may end up being spread out over all patients.

Another important aspect to consider is the effect on wait times that no-show and late appointments can have in your practice. Studies have shown that long wait times are one of the biggest complaints among dermatology patients across the board, with the average in-office wait time clocking in at 24 minutes (The Dermatologist). Even in a first come, first served system, patients who arrive late for their time slot can create much longer wait times for patients who were scheduled at that particular time.

According to a paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, it takes a new patient approximately 33 days to be seen by a dermatologist in the United States. While part of this, as the paper describes, is due to a shortage of specialty physicians, another significant piece of the puzzle has to do with the number of no-call, no-show appointments that are filling schedules and preventing other patients from taking those spots.

Developing the Right Policy for Your Practice

While it’s clear that no-show patients are negatively affecting your practice’s bottom line, patient wait times, and your ability to book new patients, the more difficult question is how do you professionally and effectively handle no-show and late appointments? To answer this question, an online survey was sent to dermatologists, MDs, and DOs across the United States to get a better understanding of how the medical practices manage the burden of no-shows.

The survey results, published in Practical Dermatology, found that the most common no-show policy is a monetary penalty charged to patients who fail to give adequate notice of their cancellation. The average penalty is about $45, although this varies depending on the geographic location of each practice. Many practices also reported that patients are fired if they fail to show up or give proper notice. A smaller number of practices said that they simply see the patient last if he or she shows up late.

According to the survey, most practices also give each patient 1 to 2 “freebies” for a no-show or late appointment. After that grace period, the above policies are implemented.

The policy, or even combination of policies, that makes the most sense for your practice might be slightly different from those mentioned in the survey. Perhaps your practice would be better suited to have a tiered system, with the monetary fine being the last step. No matter the policy, though, it is imperative that you routinely enforce it with each and every patient so that it is taken seriously. Make sure both new and existing patients are aware of the policy and how to contact your office (whether online, by phone, etc.) if they need to cancel an appointment.

In Summary

Let your patients know that while you understand that things come up and schedules change, no-shows and late arrivals aren’t acceptable, especially if they become a regular occurrence. By implementing a policy that encourages timely cancellations, you can avoid the snowball effect of long wait times and patient dissatisfaction that could otherwise occur.

For more tips about growing and running your medical practice, follow me (Leslie Baumann) on LinkedIn, where I share more articles.

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