Best Practices for Sending Appointment Reminder Messages

Most physicians’ offices already send appointment reminders, and for good reason. Research in the National Library of Medicine “found consistent evidence that all types of reminder systems are effective at improving appointment attendance across a range of healthcare settings and patient populations. … Unless otherwise indicated, all patients should receive a reminder to facilitate attendance at their healthcare appointment.”

Researchers also found text messaging was the most effective way to remind patients: “SMS reminders are reported to have successful contact rates of 97%–99%.”

Does your electronic medical record (EMR) system let you send appointment reminder texts? If not, it’s easy to add that capability with Plivo’s SMS API. We’ve written a getting started guide that shows just how easy it is for developers to add text messaging to existing application code. Plivo provides SDKs for the seven most widely used web development languages, including Python, Ruby, and Java.

Implementing appointment reminders is technically easy, but you should follow some best practices for optimal results. These practices apply to any kind of business in which customers make appointments — not just doctors but also hair stylists, tax professionals, and even restaurants that accept reservations. 

Best practices for text message reminders

1. Be timely

Medical offices and most other businesses should send a reminder 24 hours before the appointment. If your office charges a fee for last-minute cancellations, send the reminder 24 hours before the fee would kick in. That gives the patient enough time to cancel or reschedule. 

2. Be personal

Include the recipient’s name so that the recipient knows the message is coming to the right person, even if they’re forgotten all about the appointment.

3. Be precise

Include all of the facts they need to know — not just the appointment time but the location. You can also remind them to bring proof of insurance. If there are special considerations, such as a nearby detour for ongoing roadwork or a closed parking garage, include that information as well if you want your patients to be on time.

4. Be professional

Appointment reminder messages should be conversational in tone — friendly and professional. Nobody wants a machine-generated text that sounds like it was generated by a machine.

5. Be compliant

Make sure you comply with legal and regulatory SMS messaging compliance requirements in your country. If you send appointment reminders through Plivo’s Premium Communications Network, we’ll make sure you stay in compliance with rules about the volume of messages you send and allowed times of day. It’s your responsibility to stay compliant with message content. For example, in the US, to comply with HIPAA, you should avoid including any personally identifiable information or protected health information in the body of the reminder text. (That’s good advice no matter where you are.)

6. Ask for confirmation

How will you know your patient has seen your message? Provide a keyword they can use to confirm that they plan to come in. It can be as simple as “Reply Y to confirm or N to cancel.” You can also supply your phone number in case they have questions or need to reschedule.

7. Have a backup

If a patient doesn’t have a cellphone, or if you get a notification of an SMS delivery failure, you should be able to generate a voice reminder with the same information using machine-generated text-to-speech technology.

Here’s an example of a reminder message that touches all the bases.

Sam, your appointment with Dr. Adams is tomorrow at 11:45 at Adams Medical, 123 Main St, Springfield. Reply Y to confirm or N to cancel, or call us at 610-555-3456. Please bring your insurance card and a photo ID.

These simple rules will ensure your reminder texts help patients keep the appointments they made. Sign up for Plivo — it’s free to try — and review our sample message notification code to get started.

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