By Stericycle Staff | Dec. 31, 2013

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Whether or not physician practices should charge no-show fees for missed appointments is a tough call. On one hand, physician practices are in the business of caring for people, but at the same time, they are just that—businesses. On the other hand, it’s hard to tell if charging no-show fees might be perceived as crass commercialism and turn off some patients. Even if assessing these fees is deemed wise, the question becomes what an acceptable amount is, from the standpoint of both a hard-nosed business decision and customer relations.

A recent Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) blog post weighed the pros and cons of charging no-show fees from three perspectives:

  • A business director at one 60-provider multispecialty practice said that the fees are too much trouble because they create another administrative task to worry about and tracking which patients called back to reschedule appointments turned out to be burdensome.
  • A manager of one family practice said that she was solely responsible for assessing the fees, which keep no-shows to a minimum, giving her a favorable view of the fees. She added that the practice places personal reminder phone calls to patients the day before their appointments.
  • A third practice manager also said that she is in favor of no-show fees, adding that she thinks these are fair if they are equal to or less than patients’ co-pays. We take a neutral stance on no-show fees—read on and you’ll see why—but we do think that a business case for assessing a practitioner’s total lost revenue for the appointment slot could be made, if not a customer relations case.

Let’s take a step back from the argument of whether or not assessing no-show fees is a good move for your practice for a moment, in case you’re not sure which way to go. A third method of preventing no-shows is available.

Reminding patients of upcoming appointments is a good practice. Many of us are so busy these days and we get bombarded with so much data throughout the day that we would probably forget appointments involving work or our kids’ schooling without our smartphone calendars or other devices. Same goes for our healthcare, particularly in regard to appointments of a periodic checkup nature. In that case, we often schedule our appointments months in advance and we would likely forget them if someone didn’t remind us.

If you decide to take this approach to reducing appointment no-shows, you obviously have three options:

  • Add this task to the existing administrative staff’s responsibilities;
  • Add to the existing administrative staff; or
  • Hire an outside service.

Using the first option might seem like the easiest way to handle the situation. However, you have to weigh this option against how busy the existing staff is and whether or not you think its efforts would get spread too thin with this approach. A lot of hidden costs can emerge out of using this option. How much the staff’s quality of work would be affected in other areas can create costs you can’t even see.

The second option certainly devotes resources to patient communication specifically, but it might be more costly than you think. An analysis from Appletree Answers, a Stericycle Communication Solutions company, quantifies the potential cost of this option.

The third option can be a cost-effective alternative. You’re opting for a service that is utilized to the extent that it is needed, without the additional overhead inherent in adding staff. Your existing staff can specialize more, completing a narrower range of tasks more efficiently.

Of course, not all communication service providers are created equal. Stericycle Communication Solutions’ appointment reminders are provided when patients are most likely to be reached. We can ensure that appointments are automatically uploaded to your practice’s schedule, with detailed reports of confirmations, reschedules or cancellations. So much of the task of managing your appointment book is taken care of.

Stericycle Staff

Author: Stericycle Staff

Stericycle has been delivering communication services to North American companies for over 25 years. Since 2011, we’ve been blogging about how to deliver best-in-class communications to patients and consumers – providing practical advice and current best practices for both healthcare and commercial organizations. We hope you enjoy and keep reading!
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