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Behavioral health providers face multiple challenges. One of the most serious obstacles is getting patients to attend their appointments. In fact, according to industrial research, approximately one in five patients do not show up for their appointments. Late cancellations and no-shows can derail the office day, costing time and money and hindering patient outcomes.

This is especially important in the behavioral health setting, compared to other medical specialties, because of the high frequency with which patients are in the office—often once to twice a month or more.

There are many reasons why patients do not show up for their behavioral health appointments. Some patients may feel unprepared to deal with their problems, while others may forget or have scheduling conflicts.

The nature of many mental health diagnoses can hinder clients’ efforts to attend therapy consistently. Those struggling with depression may lack motivation; socially anxious clients may back out of their engagements at the last minute. Increased engagement, from upfront communication to automated reminders, gives them space to mentally prepare and make faithful attendance more likely.

Whatever the reason, it is important that behavioral health care providers find ways to encourage their patients to attend their scheduled appointments. Here are some ideas:

Clear communication

Clear communication can help ensure that patients understand the importance of attending their appointments and what to expect when they do. Providers should take the time to talk to their patients about why appointments are important and what they can expect during their visit. By taking the time to have this conversation, providers can help build trust and confidence with their patients, which can lead to better service, care and health outcomes.

Scheduling flexibility

Patients today want scheduling flexibility. Practices that offer online scheduling via computer or mobile device make it easy for patients to ensure their appointment date and time fits their schedule. Also, if the patient knows they can reschedule an appointment if needed, they will be more likely to attend. This can be especially helpful for patients who have busy schedules or who need to see a provider outside of normal business hours.

Automate patient appointment reminders

Consumers are busier, more stressed and more distracted than ever. Automated therapy appointment reminders received a day or two in advance go a long way in reducing accidental no-shows.

Using electronic health record (EHR) software, practices can remind patients about appointments in a personal and timely manner. Built-in appointment reminder features can help by automating patient communication with personalized messages tailored to a specific practice. Automation makes it easy to send reminders at the right time and frequency via text message or email depending on the patient’s preferences.

Automating messaging also helps improve front office efficiency and saves administrative staff time by reducing the number of calls and emails they have to handle. Automation not only reduces no-shows and saves time, but it also helps ensure a steady stream of revenue and a schedule full of patients.

While automated reminders can be a useful feature, they must be used strategically and timing is everything. If the appointment reminder is sent too early, the patient may forget about it. If sent too late, patients may miss the appointment altogether. Finding the right balance is key and will depend on individual practice and client appointment cadence. Practices should perform a test to determine the best schedule for sending reminders.

While automated reminders are convenient, they can also seem impersonal. To combat this, providers should include a personal message with each reminder. When preparing the messages, providers should include the patient’s preferred name, the date and time of the appointment, and the name of the physician they will be seeing.

Identify customer trends

Because automated reminders help avoid forgotten appointments, they give practitioners a better idea of ​​who is committed to the therapy process, who cancels frequently, and who fails to show up even after contact. Tracking these trends to see if cancellations or no-shows tend to follow a particular program, provider, or customer demographic is also helpful. If a program or provider is suffering from a high cancellation rate, the practitioner may need to step in, assess why clients are discouraged and disinterested, and work to remedy the problem. If certain types of patients show unstable attendance, practitioners will know who to focus on for closer follow-up.

The more patients value and trust a practice, the easier it is to build rapport and keep them deeply engaged in the therapeutic process. And because reminders reduce the number of missed appointments, patients benefit from regular therapy and move through their mental health more quickly. The very nature of communication back and forth with the office outside of scheduled appointments signals that patients are active participants in the process. Patients who feel like active participants tend to show better results.

Encouraging patients to attend their behavioral health appointments is essential for both providers and patients. By taking a few simple steps, practices can help ensure their patients receive the care they need while reducing unnecessary loss of revenue and time within the business model.

Photo: SIphotography, Getty Images

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