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Colorado physicians group says text messaging saved them from no-show losses

Apptoto study finds text messages were replied to more often than calls, at a rate of 30 percent versus 23 percent;

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Traci Humphreys was losing money on missed appointments. Then she made a few adjustments.

The practice manager of Broomfield Family Practice in Broomfield, Colorado discovered something that recent research has verified: How and when to send out reminder messages to patients can impact a practice's bottom line.

To mitigate loss of income due to no-shows, Humphreys started using Apptoto, a cloud-based, automated appointment messaging service. Aside from offering automation, Apptoto has devised a number of messaging strategies it says can significantly impact patient attendance rates -- from the best times to send reminders to simple considerations like the wording of messages.

Humphreys said the implementation of these strategies made a huge difference.

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"My front office staff no longer has to make reminder calls, which frees them up to do more productive things in the office," she said. "It also has decreased the number of no-show appointments by about 40 percent. The calls are made two days prior, which allows us time to fill up the cancellation spots. It increases productivity and income."

That doesn't surprise Frank Cort one bit.

Cort is the founder of Apptoto, and has been using statistics to analyze no-show data, as well as the best practices businesses can use to keep loss of income as low as possible. A study Cort commissioned found that missed appointments costs the American economy at large about $66 billion per year.

"We took a statistical approach -- How often do people have no-shows and late arrivals?" said Cort. "And if people were rescheduling on the day of the appointment, we were counting that as a no-show. At about $20 per no-show, you arrive at a number in the billions of dollars."

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Among the study's findings: SMS messages, such as text messages, were replied to more often than calls, at a rate of 30 percent versus 23 percent; emails perform poorly, only generating a 12 percent reply rate; and sending a text message at 6 p.m.one day before the appointment generally appears to be the best no-show mitigation strategy.

Apptoto gleaned this data from 178,000 random messages its clients sent in October.

And form, apparently, matters. Phone call reminders tended to not be particularly effective; the best strategy, said Cort, is to send an SMS message, such as a text, and an email concurrently.

"The chance of one of those going through is very high," he said.

Hammering home the importance of an appointment is also effective, said Cort -- though any organization would do well to be friendly about it.

"A lot of people miss appointments because something may come up, even if it's just coffee with a friend," said Cort. "The wording (of the reminder) needs to increase the importance of the meeting in their mind."

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As an example, Cort cited a number of recent suggestions in the media that routine annual exams may not be strictly necessary.

"People said that maybe it's not needed," he said. "So it's potentially helpful for a business to say at the end of their message something like, 'Remember, it's quick and you need more advice as you get older.' And then people start to think, 'Well, yeah, maybe I do.'"

Humphreys, for one, is convinced that those small changes have made a huge difference.

"I wouldn't change a thing," she said.

Twitter: @JELagasse