In the hustle and bustle of modern life, the unexpected can throw a wrench into even the most carefully laid plans — including scheduled surgery procedures. Work conflicts, family emergencies, or just a bad day can lead patients to no-shows. But, there are strategic approaches to handling patient cancellations when they happen.
Reasons Why Patients Cancel Appointments
It seems like everyone is living a busy life these days, so it’s understandable that — occasionally — a surgery may need to be rescheduled. For many people, reasons may include:
- Work conflicts
- Transportation or logistic issues
- Family or personal emergency
- Severe weather
- Anxiety about the surgery
- High cost of procedure
- Bad in-office experiences
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Just not feeling well
Some reasons are justified, and some are, well, pretty lame considering your dedicated surgical coordinator put in so much effort. All of these reasons. however, still results in a reschedule, cancellation, or a patient simply not showing up to their surgery.
Three Steps to Prevent Patient Cancellations
Prevention is key and should be constant. The following steps are vital to handling these issues on the day of surgery and — perhaps just as important — re-booking quickly.
1. Educate Patients with Clear Communication
Educate patients early in the process and emphasize the importance of keeping their scheduled surgery appointments. Remind them they can reschedule but make sure they understand that the sooner they notify you, the better their chances are at getting their desired appointment date.
Bring up the cancellation policy and fee and make sure it’s easy to reschedule online, over the phone, or via text.
Be sure to remain friendly and flexible when it comes to your cancellation policy — it could send poor planners and people with sensitive schedules to a different practice with a more lenient policy.
2. Make Your Rescheduling Form Well-known and Accessible
Whether you rely on phone calls, portal messaging, or an online scheduling tool, make communication as easy as possible for the patient. Even better – provide multiple options and communication channels. In a tight situation, a quick phone call might be all a patient has access to.
3. Build A Patient Reminder System into Your Workflow
Establishing a patient reminder workflow (whether it’s automated or built into your surgical coordination checklist) will help prevent no-shows.
You can remind patients of the appointments and all the details via email, phone, or text reminders. It’s good practice to try all three to cover your bases.
Bonus points if you ask about their communication preferences — that’s great customer service. We all know ourselves and if we’ll prioritize text messages, voicemails, or emails.
What Is the Best Approach to Handling Patient Cancellations
It’s frustrating when you have a last-minute cancellation. On the administrative side of things, it’s important to have a plan in place that not only informs the surgeon but also starts the rescheduling process.
Communicate And Reschedule Quickly
Once a cancellation or reschedule request comes in, act to:
- Communicate the patient cancellation with the surgeon, staff, OR, and vendors
- Update the surgical calendar
- Find a surgery to move into the newly available time
- Promptly reschedule the original procedure
Be Kind When Rescheduling
It’s important to keep your cool — especially when things fall through at the last minute. Whether a patient completely forgot about their appointment or got anxious and didn’t show up, reach out to reschedule kindly.
Patients may feel embarrassed, so be friendly, show empathy, acknowledge that it happens sometimes, but most importantly, get the surgery rescheduled. These are the most difficult types of cancellations.
One technique that can help prevent no-shows is building a good relationship with patients from the first time they walk through your doors. In a strong relationship with lots of trust, patients are more likely to listen, connect, and communicate.
Find And Fix Trending Issues
Sometime between the appointment cancellation and the rescheduled appointment, try looking into why the original appointment didn’t work out and what could be done to fix it. You can build this into your rescheduling protocol or reach out to the patient to find out why.
Look for trends — are many patients forgetting the time or showing up late? Try adding another reminder the day before their procedure. Do patients frequently forget pre-surgery prep? Make sure you send them instructions multiple times.
Continuous improvement will help further reduce your headaches.
Catch Chronic Cancellers
Take note of any patients who have canceled or rescheduled multiple times before — they’re likely to do it again. You may want to add a few more reminders to their outreach or double down on communications entirely.
They might be worried about cost, logistics, or recovery, so it may be wise to double-check these common concerns.
These are great trends to identify and adjust your approach early on. Be open and build a trusting relationship so patients feel comfortable bringing up their pain points to your staff.
Handling patient cancellations is an art and a science. By mastering prevention steps, sticking to your cancellation and rescheduling plan, and paying attention to repeat issues, your practice can reduce cancellations while improving surgical volume.
You can do more than just accept cancellations. You can create a patient-centric experience that stands out from other practices.