If you have your own acupuncture practice, you know that patients failing to show up for their appointment comes with the territory. Personally, there is nothing more frustrating than booking an early morning patient, hauling my butt out of bed before the sun is up, and getting to the clinic only to have the patient not show up and not call.
It’s irritating when patients don’t show up for a couple of reasons. First, it represents a loss of income for that booked time. Second, in most cases there were other patients who would have liked to come during that time slot; and third, it’s just plain inconsiderate.
So what do you do when a patient doesn’t show up? For starters, while I may be annoyed, I don’t get mad. Stuff happens, kids get sick, people get stuck in meetings, and life gets in the way. And while an acupuncture appointment may be important, sometimes things that are more important come up. Beyond keeping your cool, here are a few tips for handling patients who cancel at the last minute or just don’t show up:
-Consider the patient and the circumstances. If a patient who always comes to their appointments on time doesn’t show up, my first thought is that something is up—not that they’ve blown off their appointment. I will usually give them a call or send an email checking in with them. However, a person who chronically cancels an hour before they’re due at my clinic is a different story, and needs to be handled a little more assertively.
-Confirm your appointments the day before, either through email or a phone call. I began doing this about three years ago, and the number of failed appointments have dropped to almost zero. I regret not having done this earlier in my practice.
-How do I deal with those patients who cancel on short notice or just don’t show up? My strategy is a series of three steps. First, I will simply tell the person that I’d appreciate more notice if they can’t make their appointment, and tell them why. For most people, this is all that’s necessary. However, if they continue to disregard their appointments, I will suddenly be booked up for two or three weeks, so it becomes difficult for them to get back in my schedule right away. My final step (I’ve only had to use this twice) is to tell a patient that because of their frequent failures to show up that I’m not able to book any future appointment for them. Instead however, they can call me on the day that they’d like to come in and see if I have any openings. If they are fine cancelling on short notice, I am fine booking only on short notice, too.
-Should you charge for a missed appointment? I’m mixed on this one. You can do so legally as long as your patients are aware of your policy and you state the amount of time they must give you prior to a cancellation. For example, cancelling less than 24 hours before their appointment will incur a charge. Personally, I’ve never charged a patient for a missed appointment. I feel like it creates ill will and chances are the patient will go elsewhere. I have had several patients offer to pay for their missed appointment, and based on the circumstances, I will usually graciously accept. It tells me that they respect my time and want to continue our therapeutic relationship.
-What about patients who are late? I’m not willing to inconvenience the patients who come after, so my working rule is if I can get everything done in the remaining time we have, then we go to work. If not, then we need to reschedule.
The overwhelming majority of my patients are respectful and give me plenty of notice if they can’t make an appointment. That said, it’s taken me a long time to set clear boundaries with patients who don’t seem to respect my time—or perhaps don’t think about my time at all. In the end, however, confirming appointments and being clear about how to handle short notice cancellations, no shows, and late patients keeps these events to a minimum.