Hard Conversations: What Is the Best Approach to Handling Patient Cancellations

Hard Conversations: What Is the Best Approach to Handling Patient Cancellations

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 

Frustrated surgical coordinator handling a patient cancellation

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 

Worried surgical patient

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

Happy surgical patient

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: 

  1. Communicate the patient cancellation with the surgeon, staff, OR, and vendors 
  2. Update the surgical calendar 
  3. Find a surgery to move into the newly available time 
  4. Promptly reschedule the original procedure 

Be Kind When Rescheduling 

surgical coordinator handling a patient cancellation with a smile


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. 

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