Clip and Copy: A no-show showdown letter

April 22, 2005

Every practice must have a plan to deal with patients who miss appointments. Here's what you need when a patient is regularly absent.

Dealing with chronic no-shows is a balancing act. On one hand, you don't want to scold them. Patients deserve to be treated like customers, not like waiting room cattle. However, patients also are partners in their own healthcare. Consequently, they should be held accountable for their actions.

A patient's first no-show is no reason to read him the riot act. After all, he may have been waylaid by a flat tire-or even too sick to get on the telephone and cancel! If the appointment was critical for his health, call him and offer the opportunity to reschedule. For routine visits, consider sending a letter that gives him the benefit of the doubt ("Perhaps an emergency prevented you from coming in . . ."), wishes him well, and invites him to make another appointment.

The sample letter (see the link below) responds to a second no-show. Taking a sterner tone, it explains the importance of keeping appointments and mentions the possible consequences of continually missing them. Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to the patient. Mailing this letter assumes that your practice has a written policy about appointments and has communicated it to each patient.