Running an acupuncture business comes with many perks and being your own boss can offer a lot of freedom and flexibility in one’s life. This responsibility can also come with hardship, especially if the correct systems aren’t in place.
This article explains a few options for responsible and ethical ways to deal with scheduling issues — such as no-shows and late cancellations — in order to help streamline decision-making and allow your business to run smoothly.
Do you frequently have patients cancel close to their acupuncture appointment time, leaving open slots in your schedule? Do you have patients simply not showing up for their scheduled appointment?
Scheduling issues, like the late-minute cancellations and no-shows, can cause a major decrease in income and cause feelings of frustration towards patients or even your business model. Practitioners’ businesses will suffer if proper systems aren’t in place to deal with occurrences like these. Creating a way to handle scheduling problems can help to curb these feelings of frustration, while also properly accounting for your time.
Efficient scheduling is the foundation of your business and can make a huge difference financially and emotionally.
This article only provides suggestions, as you know your clientele and business practices best. It is important to have a system in place to deal with these situations so you do not have to overthink, waiver, or treat people (or yourself!) unfairly. Having a clinic-wide protocol, and a clear concise statement printed on your consent form is a great place to start.
Taking situations on a case-to-case basis may also be needed, as emergencies do happen, and being compassionate towards patients will make them feel seen, respected, and willing to return. Often times the cases of no-shows and late cancels fall within a specific group of clients and hopefully not an overall theme within your business, so it might be a good idea to brainstorm ways that would be most effective for those specific patients only.
When a patient does not show up for their allocated time slot, with no prior warning, it is considered a “no-show”. These can be most frustrating as the business has no time to try and fill that slot with, partially because another person may actually want it.
In this case it is important to reach out to the person to find out what happened before trying to charge for the appointment.
When a patient cancels their appointment in less than the agreed-upon time prior to the appointment, then this is considered a “late cancel”.
The most common notice period is either 24 or 48 hours before the appointment time. This time frame means often it can be challenging to fill this slot, so having a set fee for a late cancellation can help to offset the financial difference impact from not filling that slot.
Policy and Procedure
First off, giving the patient notice within the consent-to-treat form is a great way to set clear boundaries. Patients need to read through and sign these forms prior to receiving care, so it is an ideal time to set forth all clinic policies and procedures.
There are great scheduling systems and practice management software that offer customized appointment reminders. They can be delivered by text, email, or both. It is important to utilize this feature to make sure the patient receives reminders about the appointment. Many people have hectic lives and it is not uncommon to have schedule snafus.
Having a clear and set fee for these situations will not only make patients feel more obligated to show up to the appointment but more cognizant of contacting you in time if they need to make a change. I have seen many clinics make the late cancel fee around 50% of the appointment cost, and some up to the full cost of the missed appointment.
Often I have seen clinics have a policy where they get one “freebie”, and then the company’s policy kicks in after, but again a stricter policy might work best for you.
How To Reduce No-Shows And Late-Cancellations
- Take pre-payment for appointments: When patients pre-pay for appointments, they are more likely to show up. Many practice management software has the option to take payment during online books or keep cards on file. Do know that this option may deter some people, especially new patients from booking, as they are not quite sure what to expect.
- Keep cards on file: Having your patient card on file can be a great way to ensure payment of late fees. Just make sure to let the patient know how much they are being charged and why. This option can make business much smoother instead of dealing with pesky unpaid invoices.
- Have multiple automatic reminders: Many patients are thankful for the multiple reminders about their upcoming appointment. These can be set at specific times. I think the most effective timing of these reminders are, one when the appointment is booked, one a day before, and one more 1-2 hours prior to the appointment.
- Use multiple reminder methods: These days most people are pretty attached to their phones and have access to email as well, but not everyone, so having reminders come by text and email can have all your bases covered. If you have the resources, a phone call the day prior to the appointment might be a nice touch, especially for those who often miss appointments or don’t have as easy access to email and texts.
- Offer printed appointment reminder cards: This option is great, especially if the appointment is scheduled quite a ways away, or doesn’t have a smartphone and digital calendar. The older generation also really appreciates this option.
- Thank people who show up on time: A simple thank you for showing up and supporting your business goes a long way and makes people take pride in their choice of supporting you.
- Schedule a “Sorry We Missed You” follow-up email for no-shows: A gentle reminder is a great way to find out what caused the person to not show up. This can give you more information to find out if there was an emergency or negligence and can help to decide on whether to bill the patient.
- Offer a telehealth replacement for a late-cancel appointment: If a patient cancels within the time frame of them needing to be charged for a late cancel, you can always offer them the option of a telehealth appointment, and maybe they will be able to squeeze you. This works if the reason they can’t make it is due to a timing or transportation issue, and allows you to still receive full payment for your service.
- Reschedule patients right after the missed appointment: It is always a smart move to try and reschedule patients, especially if they missed an appointment so they don’t fall off your schedule for too long.
The Importance of a Waitlist
Having an active wait list of patients can make the situation of late-cancels less stressful. When you are informed that a patient will be unable to show up, you can reach out to patients waiting for an appointment and hopefully, they will be able to fill the slot that just opened up on such short notice.
It is important to remember that accidents, emergencies, and sickness happen, so being compassionate in these situations, allows you to run a successful, people-centered business. Having boundaries that protect your business and energy is also very important. You want to make sure you are not feeling resentful or disrespected by a decision your business makes, so having clear expectations of patients is important.
And as with all things, clear and concise communication is especially important, reminding the patient of your policy and letting them know what action was taken such as if you are charging their card on file.
It is also important to remember, even though you may be frustrated, to never have negative comments or a reprimanding tone while talking with acupuncture patients about not showing up for their appointment. Having them follow the clinic guidelines, and pay the fee, sets clear boundaries and you can both move forward.
It is best to not let your feelings come into play here, as you do not want to disrespect them or lose their business.