Over the next two months, there are several holidays which may wreak havoc on your schedule. Are you prepared with a solid cancellation policy? You should be. There are several options to help deter patients from not showing up for their appointment, or calling and canceling. Obviously, there are emergencies that arise which are legitimate reasons to cancel. However, handling those not-so-emergency phone calls takes a good policy and a little bit of front-office training.
First, take a look at your current policy. Do you require 24-hour or 48-hour notification? If a patient cancels same-day, do you charge them a nominal fee for the cancellation? Are you the kind to just let it slide? A good policy will have the following:
1. Clear verbiage stating the notice of cancellation (24 hours or 48 hours)
2. Clearly stated billed amount for missing an appointment (e.g. $25, $40, $50)
3. Why the policy is in place
4. Area for the patient to sign and date stating they understand why they will be billed
As with any area of your business, you get the last decision if a patient is charged or not. Again, pending any true emergencies, the patient may be a friend or a relative, or someone close in the community. With these types of relationships, you may want to rethink before sending them a bill.
For the rest of the no-shows or cancels — such as “because it's just too inconvenient right now” or “I have family coming tomorrow and I need to clean my house”— they do not fit within the emergency level type of excuse.
Let's say next week with Thanksgiving coming, that you are open Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. You have a booked solid schedule, and so far do not anticipate any cancellations. Tuesday rolls around and the calls start coming in. Have your staff trained and prepared to explain to the patient on the phone that they will be charged a fee (depending upon what you have it set at) for missing the appointment. Some people might change their mind, others are willing to take the risk that you will still waive the fee, and even others will just say, “so charge me then.”
The cost of cancellations and no-shows are really an area that every practice can improve upon. Let's say you end up with 15 cancellations / no-shows during Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Normally, these appointments would bring in $150 to $200 per appointment. So, you are now down $2,250 to $3,000 in inflow for those 15 visits. If you have and enforce a cancellation policy at $50 per missed visit, this will yield $750 of that loss back to you. It is well worth it to charge the patient.
Something to keep in mind when educating your patients on your cancellation policy, is to explain the reason why you have it. Patient care is why you are in the industry you are. You care about their health. Sometimes, more than they do. They are willing to put their healthcare needs on hold for any number of reasons. This not only hurts them in the long run, but affects your businesses bottom line. By really explaining to them that they deserve good healthcare, and that you are there to provide it, they are less likely to cancel for a reason that is not emergency related. They are also aware that you have put them on notice, and will think twice about not showing up, or calling to cancel instead of going shopping or to lunch with a friend.
Keep it clear, keep it simple, explain the reason why and your patients will respect your time in a much more appropriate manner.
Coming up next week: What to do with all of those food gifts the patients bring in! Surely, you can't eat ALL of those cookies.