Solving the problematic patient no-show equation

We live in an instant gratification, immediate access kind of world. Want to buy a pair of shoes? Find an app, click a couple of times and done. Want to go out of town for the weekend? Look up flights on a travel website, click a few more times and done. Want to schedule a doctor's appointment? Look up your clinic online and click on the link to schedule an appointment and...wait, not so fast.

According to The Washington Post, on average, you will need to wait 18.5 days before you can get an appointment to see your physician. A lot can happen during 18 days. Eventually, according to the Annals of Family Medicine, 42 percent of patients will decide to skip their appointments during this period because they are:

● Feeling worse and need to go to the emergency room
● Overscheduled and forget their appointment
● Limited in their healthcare literacy and don't understand or appreciate why the appointment is necessary
● Not in an established relationship with their doctor and aren't concerned about missing an appointment
● Influenced by language barriers or, socio-economic factors and misunderstand when their appointment is
● Anxious about the appointment and potential bad news, and decide to avoid the situation

It's not always so dire. The report says that in some cases, the patient does feel better and no longer needs the appointment. But do they always remember to cancel it? Unfortunately, that is not always the case. From improved on-site diagnostics to Electronic Health Records, current technology being used to improve productivity is beginning to permeate the physician's practice. Now, new tools are also emerging to reduce one of the most costly concerns: patient no-shows.

The Impact of Patient No-Shows
From a provider's point of view, there's an immense impact derived from patient no-shows, which affects patient access, staff productivity and bottom line financial outcomes.

The most significant challenge patients face today is their ability to access their providers when they need them. Seventy-six percent of patients choose to call their providers to schedule appointments. However, research has found that approximately 23 percent of patients do not show up for their appointment unless they are proactively reminded. As a result, the Annals of Family Medicine states that these no-shows have a negative impact on HCAPHS scores and bottom line profitability.

No-shows reduce provider productivity, clinic efficiency, and limit the ability of a clinic to serve those in need of more immediate care by reducing its effective capacity. If a patient gives short notice for a cancellation or doesn't show up at all, it's a significant challenge to fill the missed appointment. This takes time away from helping patients who are present and need additional medical services or want to schedule future appointments.

The popular solution is double-booking appointments. While this increases access for patients, it can also lead to clinician overtime and patient frustration with longer wait times. Research found that one multi-physician clinic had over 14,000 no-shows in a single year, resulting in an estimated loss of over one million dollars. With group practices accounting for 47 percent of the approximately 230,000 physician practices in the United States, clinics risk losing more than $100 billion annually due to patient no-shows.

This patient-provider equation is only predicted to get worse. By 2025, the United States will have a shortage of approximately 130,000 physicians. Reducing no-shows by providing patient-centered care that both helps them understand their treatment while also empowering them to get more done faster seems complicated, but it doesn't need to be. Conversational virtual assistant solutions are helping to bridge the gap between patients and providers, without requiring additional staff or resources.

Enter Conversational Virtual Assistants
Virtual assistants are not a new concept, but one of growing relevance and adoption. Conversational virtual assistants use simple, natural language to gather more accurate and timely information than legacy speech recognition tools while delivering unprecedented comprehension when patients call.

Instead of getting held up in an endless series of menus and prompts, patients can simply contact their provider through their channel of choice – telephone, online chat, etc. – and have a natural dialogue with an conversational virtual assistant to describe what they need. Because the patient can speak in his or her own words, as if speaking with another person, more is accomplished in a shorter period of time.

Providers and clinicians benefit by being able to efficiently gather more accurate and timely information from patients to support their care plan, while patients, on the other hand, are able to easily get information in real-time. Patients have the ability to inquire about their condition or latest test results, directions to the nearest facility, hours of operation, ask questions relevant to their care, or have their call routed to the clinician they need to schedule their appointments with.

Virtual assistants are changing the patient no-show equation with highly conversational technology that helps foster the patient-provider relationship. Patients are able to use natural conversation to engage a provider to find the information they need quickly and on their own terms. This keeps them engaged and active in their healthcare management. Healthcare systems benefit by reducing costs from patients not being prepared for their appointments or simply not showing up.

Health systems that have implemented conversational virtual assistants have an unprecedented opportunity to change patient and provider behavior, overall experience and ultimately, our collective health. In a world where technology is able to grant instant access to nearly everything, physicians across the country should leverage this highly accurate intelligence to make patients' healthcare experiences a faster, seamless and empowering process.

About the Author
Kathleen Schroeder, Senior Marketing Manager – Healthcare at Interactions, is a seasoned healthcare professional with an MBA in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin. Throughout her extensive career, she has worked tenaciously to represent the voice of the patient through numerous social outlets, speaking engagements and customer encounters. By educating healthcare systems on the value of putting patients first, she is committed to improving the patient-provider experience.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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