Are you busy? So are your patients. For over-scheduled, over-worked and overwhelmed people (i.e., most of us) keeping track of when annual exams are due, taking the time to schedule a visit, and then actually making it to the office – not to mention scheduling and undergoing associated testing such as a mammogram, colonoscopy, or blood work – can feel like a daunting proposition. Routine medical care is so easy to put off. When a patient is feeling well, even though they understand the value of preventive care, it often falls to the bottom of the to-do list. But you can help.
The most obvious way to encourage patients to schedule and keep their preventive care appointments is to remind them to do so. Your electronic medical record software likely makes tracking which patients are due for visits an easy task on your end. Set up a system within the office so that someone is responsible, at least once a month, for determining which of your patients should be seen soon and then getting in touch with them. Depending on your practice volume, phone calls to patients might be possible and is a highly customer-focused approach. If your patient numbers are high and your staff is stretched thin, then sending reminder letters or postcards is also effective. That said, if a mailed reminder is ignored on the part of the patient, a second follow-up is in order, this time by phone.
When patients call to arrange their preventive care visits, make every effort to get them in as quickly as possible, even though the visit is not of an urgent nature. When someone finally gets around to calling to schedule their visit, it indicates they’re motivated. If you schedule them six or eight weeks out from the time they call, that motivation may very well wane by the time the visit day rolls around, resulting in a last minute cancellation.
Make preventive care visits and annual exams pleasant and convenient for patients by scheduling so that they do not have to wait once they arrive at the office (or, worse, once they’re in the exam room) and by being efficient throughout the visit. Focus on being thorough, but also on getting patients in and out as quickly as possible. Have referral slips for routine diagnostics prepared in advance and make it clear how patients should go about scheduling this follow-up work. You can offer to schedule testing for patients, but don’t insist on it. Many people need to check their calendars to determine when they’ll have time to get a mammogram or block off days necessary to prep for a colonoscopy, for example. Be sure to let patients know what to expect in terms of getting their test results back (e.g., will you send then a note in the mail, call them, or should they call your office).
Even though patients might put off preventive care, they will no doubt appreciate the fact that your office is efficient and encouraging when it comes to helping them take care of themselves. Sometimes we all need a little nudge in the direction of what we know is good for us.