No-shows and cancellations can be one of the biggest drains on private practices. Obviously, the financial loss of not being able to charge for that time can have a big cumulative impact on your bottom line. But in addition to this, there is also a negative impact on your motivation and that of your team. When clients cancel or don’t show up, it’s demoralising for everyone – which is clearly not good for business.
Thankfully, there are a few simple things practice owners can put in place to dramatically reduce no-shows…
1) Implement Automated Text Reminders
Some practice owners don’t like the idea of automated SMS reminders but studies have shown these are the singular most effective means of reducing no-shows. In fact, research* shows the use of SMS appointment reminders can reduce no shows by over 50%! And some of our practices tell us it is even higher!
Most practice management software makes it easy to send these out. The costs involved with this are minimal – especially when compared to the cost of a lost appointment.

2) Use Multiple Reminder Methods
While SMS is the single most effective channel for appointment reminders, using multiple channels can achieve an even better result. Typically, this will be an email – perhaps a week before the appointment, and then an SMS two days before the appointment (or earlier if the appointment falls on a Monday).
You should be able to configure your practice management software to send these automatically.

3)  Quickly See Which Appointments are Not Confirmed
It’s important to be able to easily spot any appointments that haven’t been confirmed – despite the client having received multiple reminders. These clients are a statistically higher risk of missing the appointment. By being able to identify these early, you are able to either manually follow up with another SMS or phone call to confirm their attendance, or cancel the appointment and fill that appointment spot with another client.
The best practice management systems will update the appointment status automatically when a client replies, and make it easy to identify at a glance which clients have confirmed and which have not.

4) Call as Soon as an Appointment is Missed
Research shows that the strongest predictor of a client not showing up for their appointment is… a history of missing appointments. Every client misses an appointment from time to time, but those chronically missed appointments? They come from a small percentage of your clients.
The best practice for dealing with no-shows is to call them 10 or 15 minutes after their appointment time. This also shows concern and care for your clients – remember there may be a legitimate reason they have not turned up. Whatever has happened, let them know you’ve been waiting for them and make plans to reschedule their appointment straight away. Be careful not to reprimand the client if you want to see them back (and especially if this is their first missed appointment). For most clients, you’ll only need to do this once and they’ll be careful not to be late or miss appointments in future.
5) Put a Cancellation Policy in Place
Having a Cancellation Policy in place is recommended for all practices. This should be referred to at multiple touch points in the client’s journey – when making the initial booking, in written terms provided to clients and signed prior to the commencement of treatment, and thorugh discussion with the client during the first appointment.  It’s also useful to make your cancellation policy visible in your waiting room as a gentle reminder.
When appointments are missed, practices typically either charge the full appointment fee, or charge a nominal fee. Some practices also allow one missed appointment without charging any fees, or make exceptions on a case by case basis.  Whatever your approach, it’s best to have a policy in place that you can fall back on if you need it.
Example wording for a ‘Missed Appointment and Cancellation Policy’ could be;

If you are unable to keep a scheduled appointment, please give 24 hours
advance notice. If less than 24 hours notice is given, and we are unable to
fill your time slot, you will be charged a fee of £50 for the missed appointment.
Thank you.

Of course, helping your patients not to miss appointments, rather than charging them when they do, is the best approach – but sometimes you need a combination of both!
6) Keep an Active Waitlist
Taking the steps above will dramatically reduce your no-shows, but there will inevitably still be the occasional late cancellation. To ensure this has minimal impact on your practice and your team, an active waitlist can allow you to fill this quickly.
The best practice management systems will allow you to keep a waitlist and send a text message to selected clients on that list whenever a new spot becomes available. For instance, you might have 50 people on your waitlist but you can just message 5 people and see if any of those can take the appointment – whoever responds first gets the appointment. This ensures that your schedule is kept full and minimises the impact of cancellations.
Having a full and well-managed appointment calendar is one of the keys to a thriving practice. We encourage you to put in place these 6 methods to minimise no-shows and keep your practice humming. If you’re not doing these things already, they can really make a huge difference – and they’re really not hard to implement.
Interested in practice management software that can do most of this for you? Check out Power Diary – it’s the practice management software trusted by over 27,000 practitioners.