When is the best time to send appointment reminders to reduce no-shows?

There has been quite a bit of research about when you should send your appointment reminder messages. We dove into the data to see what it suggests, and we've shared our findings for you here.

Doug Pohl·

Practitioner sits in front of an empty chair, looking at her watch and waiting for the patient to arrive.

No-shows are costly. You know that. They mean less revenue for your business, and they delay the progress of care for your patients. That’s why there’s a good chance you’re already using some sort of reminder messaging.

But do you know just how much reminder messages can increase your attendance rate? Are you confident that your reminder strategy is reaching its full potential?

There is a ton of conflicting information out there on this topic, and it can sometimes be hard to know what data you can trust. That’s why we’ve done our best to compile evidence from trustworthy sources and shed a little light on some of your best options.

We found some encouraging patterns in the data you could use to lower your no-show rate. And Cliniko has some helpful tools to automate your reminders and free-up your time to focus on your patients.

But keep in mind, there is no perfect answer. You might need to do your own testing and find what works best for you and your patients.

First, use the right communication channels.

Before you can start determining the best time to send out your appointment reminders, you need to know the best ways to get those messages to your patients.

Emails, text messages, phone calls—each have their own strengths and engage with your patients in different ways. For example, one study found that 90% of text messages are read within three minutes of being delivered (99% are read in total).

With that in mind, SMS might be your best bet for getting info to your patients quickly or asking for a fast response. But emails might be better for longer messages that aren’t time-sensitive.

And while most people have access to multiple channels, they probably have a favourite that they’d like you to use. It’s up to you to figure out what each patient’s preferred contact method is. And the best way to do that effectively is to simply ask them.

Just include it as one of the questions on your intake forms. When doing this, you might consider giving your patients a chance to select more than one channel. That way, you’ll have multiple options for reaching them when you need to.

No matter what people’s preferred channels might be, Cliniko can help to lighten the workload by making your reminder processes more efficient.

Be careful: Take proactive steps to protect your patients’ privacy by limiting the personal info included in your reminders. If you’re unsure on the best practices, reach out to your professional organisation for guidance.

Create a schedule for sending your appointment reminders.

There are several schools of thought on how far in advance you should send your reminders. Some recommend sending messages as early as three weeks before an appointment, while others suggest the day before or even the same day.

However, a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Infrastructure (US) clearly found that sending out reminders within one week of appointments will likely produce positive results. But what’s best? One day? Two? Seven?

The evidence shows that it really doesn’t matter. A reminder sent the day before an appointment will positively affect attendance rates just as much as a reminder sent seven days in advance. Just try to stay within the 1-week time frame.

You might find it best to aim for the middle by sending a reminder three days before an appointment. If your patient’s need to cancel or reschedule, that will likely give them enough time to reach out to your clinic. And when they do, your team should still be able to get that slot filled.

In the end, you’ll have to find what works best for your practice. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Do some experimenting. See what creates the best results for your clinic.

What time of day should you send appointment reminders?

Your reminders may require your patients to take some sort of action, like cancelling or rescheduling their appointment. If this happens, you’ll need someone in your clinic to handle their requests and fill the newly available time slot with someone from your wait list.

With that in mind, it’s generally best if your reminders go out during ‘normal business hours’, avoiding weekends, evenings, or early mornings. Patients are more responsive during these times, and there’s a decent chance someone in your clinic will be available to respond to any calls or emails that might come in.

According to a Mailchimp study using data from billions of email addresses, people are most responsive on weekdays at 10am.

By mid-morning, most people are already at work. So there’s less concern about waking them up or distracting them during their commute. That also gives them the rest of the day to respond and adjust their appointment time if they need to.

If 10am doesn’t work well for your practice, and you’re unsure what other time to try, one option might be to send your messages for the exact time of day as the appointment. Maybe try precisely 24 hours in advance. If they’re available for an appointment at 3pm on Wednesday, there’s a decent chance they’ll be receptive to a reminder message at 3pm on Tuesday.

Build your own process.

Find what works best for your practice. Just because a time of day works well for one clinic or a certain reminder schedule is effective for another, doesn’t mean they will be a good fit for you—or more importantly—for your patients.

Patient feedback can be a great resource. If you notice that patients are consistently asking you to make similar accommodations to your reminder schedule, you might want to make those changes more broadly.

And if you feel like you’re stuck before you even come up with a schedule to try out, why not ask for input from your current patients? You could send out a survey asking how & when people prefer to be contacted for appointment reminders. The only way to know for sure is to ask.

Author information

Doug is our in-house writer. When he's not banging on the keyboard, you'll probably find him listening to old Willie Nelson records or chasing chipmunks on a mountain trail.

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