The recent boom in telehealth has generated a great deal of excitement among health plans, providers, and patients alike. However, in the midst of all this positive momentum it’s important to remember that no matter how care is delivered, human nature will still be very much at play. With this in mind, effective appointment reminders will continue to be vital in terms of keeping patients engaged and reducing no-shows.

Many things are changing—but not everything

A growing chorus of industry leaders has voiced a belief that telehealth’s increased role in healthcare will be permanent. To cite just two examples, Ashok Rai, MD, President and CEO of Prevea Health, recently stated that going forward 40%-50% of all visits could take place through telehealth. Puneet Maheshwari, CEO of DocASAP, has said that an expanded role for telehealth “will lead to more efficiencies, more effectiveness, and, most importantly, will open up more capacity.” 

These sentiments are no doubt informed by favorable patient response to virtual care during the pandemic. For instance, a recent survey by the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy and the Alliance of Community Health Plans found that 89% percent of those who have used telehealth were satisfied or very satisfied with the experience. Virtual appointments remove a number of barriers to patient access, most notably the time and inconvenience of taking off work and/or traveling to a care setting.

In spite of these developments, however, no-shows may remain a challenge for healthcare organizations. Missed appointments cost the industry $150 billion a year, according to Health Management Technology. Even as more providers embrace telemedicine, no-shows can still drive losses in revenue, productivity, and time.

While it’s impossible at this early stage to anticipate all of the reasons patients may still miss appointments, two stand out as particularly likely.

New reasons for no-shows

Technical difficulties

Virtual appointments introduce a number of technology-based barriers that don’t exist in a traditional care setting. For instance, one study found that “Usability problems with installation and account creation led to high mental demand and task completion time, suggesting the participants preferred a system without such requirements.” Even without this knowledge, it’s not hard to imagine a patient’s inability to download an app or log in to a portal leading directly to a no-show. Particularly tech-averse patients may find even the notion of trying to complete these tasks daunting enough to reconsider attending their appointment.

Virtual appointments may be seen as less of a commitment

When patients are removed from the traditional care setting, there’s less immediate evidence of the time and resources being set aside for their appointment. Add to this the fact that virtual appointments involve less hassle for patients, and it’s easy to see why they may assume a no-show in a telehealth context is less of an imposition to the provider.

Virtual-appointment reminder best practices 

Thankfully, there’s no need to start from scratch when it comes to building an effective virtual-appointment reminder. Mitigating the potential causes of no-shows discussed above is more a matter of accentuating certain points within existing best practices.

Provider and tech support contact information

Provider contact information should already be included in any appointment reminder. For a virtual appointment, providers should also include some means for patients to obtain clear, actionable instructions for performing associated technical tasks—e.g., downloading the app, logging in to the portal. Should issues arise, patients should also be able to quickly and easily contact technical support. 

This best practice does come with one caveat, however. As Ted Ranney, vice president of business development at pMD, suggested to providers in a recent article, “You are not technical support, nor should you have to be. You have enough going on in your practice without having to troubleshoot technical issues with a telehealth platform for your patients.” Thus, it’s critical that providers partner with a patient access and engagement platform that’s reliable and offers seamless technical support integration when issues do arise.

An actionable cancel/reschedule link

Data indicates that a cancel/reschedule link can decrease no-show rates by 17%.  However, given that patients may see virtual appointments as less of a commitment and therefore may be more inclined to simply skip an appointment, it’s more important than ever to give them options that will prevent their appointment time from going to waste. Near-term appointments have always been coveted by patients, and demand will likely only grow as telehealth removes barriers that might have otherwise made it difficult for them to “attend” a last-minute appointment.

In closing: Not just “reminding,” but “engaging”

In spite of the recent spike in its adoption, telehealth is still a new concept for the majority of patients. Just over one year ago, almost three quarters of U.S. residents still couldn’t access or were unaware of telehealth options. With this in mind, a good rule of thumb will be to simply practice empathy. What would you want to know if the roles were reversed? What might calm your anxiety about an upcoming virtual visit? In addition to decreasing no-shows, this approach will foster engagement that lasts beyond the next appointment.

Next steps

To learn about shifting consumer preference for care, patient satisfaction with telemedicine, and the most in-demand digital tools, view our eBook, Telehealth: Taking the Healthcare Consumer’s Pulse in the New Normal.

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