A client’s session attendance is one of the key metrics to measure for a successful private practice. I don’t have to tell you just how frustrating it is to have a client cancel last minute or simply no-show, leaving an unexpected gap of non-billable time in your schedule. Not only that, client attendance has a huge impact on your potential revenue, client care and even your confidence as a clinician.
Why is it important to improve client attendance?
Let’s first delve a bit deeper into the impact of low client attendance rates on your private practice.
One of the most obvious reasons why it’s important to improve client attendance is because it is directly relevant to your revenue. 80% attendance means 80% of expected revenue.
And even if you were to enforce a cancellation policy, it is very rare to recover a cancellation fee. On the off chance that you were able to recover the fee, it can have a negative impact on your relationship with the client. Even clients who sign a cancellation policy form often readily show their discontent with having to pay the fee.
In almost all cases, a client failing to show up to their appointment negatively affects their health in some way. It delays their care plan whether it’s for a therapy session, physio, dental or even a general checkup.
Depending on the model, a large gap in client’s sessions can also require you to start from the beginning of the treatment plan due to a lack of progress or “resetting”. This can cause frustration for both you and your client.
In a bigger scale, an individual client’s low attendance rates to their treatment can also impact society at large. People who aren’t committed to treatment of avoidable issues can end up with much bigger problems down the line and impacting government spending on health.
Considering your knowledge of the negative impact of low attendance, it can chip away at your confidence as a clinician if low attendance rates persist. Diminished confidence can then lead you to second guess your methods or your rapport-building skills. This can then affect your ability to provide effective clinical care.
How to improve client attendance
Having considered the reasons why it’s important to improve client attendance for your private practice, below are some approaches you can easily implement in your interactions with your clients.
#1. Confirm the appointment.
A simple way to improve client attendance is to provide an immediate confirmation of the appointment. You can do this by automatically sending a SMS or email confirmation. Or you can simply provide clients with an appointment card with the date and time clearly written. This reduces any confusion about the next appointment.
#2. Let clients choose the time, date and practitioner.
Studies show that giving clients the freedom to choose the practitioner and time and date of the appointment is an effective strategy to improve client attendance.
“Offering choice may foster patients’ sense of volition, whereas purely service-determined appointments (i.e., a pre-set location, time, date, and therapist) may be experienced as limiting or controlling and may undermine patients’ intrinsic motivation to attend.”
#3. Provide plenty of resources for clients to make their own choices.
Following from the previous point, one way to provide clients with autonomy for increased motivation is to present easy-to-understand information about the services they can receive from you. For example, provide a list of FAQs on your website about the different treatment types you offer and how they can benefit the clients.
When clients understand the care they can receive and its impact, they can feel more motivated to attend their appointments in order to maximise the benefit.
#4. Educate your clients on the importance of attending sessions.
Similarly, help your clients understand further how following a recommended schedule is important to their physical or mental health. Just like many people prematurely stop taking the recommended dose of antibiotics, client can stop showing up to appointments when they feel like they’re doing fine.
It’s up to you to explain to your clients why it’s important for them to continue the sessions even if they think they don’t need to anymore. The more the clients are informed, the more motivated they can be to make an effort to attend.
#5. Let clients know what they can expect in the next appointment.
In the same vein, explain to your clients what they can expect in the next session. Generally, the first appointment in multi-session models is about getting to know the client and their issues. If a client thinks that the second appointment will be the same as the first, they may not be motivated to attend. For this reason, it’s important to educate them on the process and tell them what will happen in the next session.
#6. Remind clients about upcoming appointments.
SMS or email reminders about recurring and upcoming appointments is another way to improve client attendance. For a lot of people, it’s not rare to simply forget about a pre-scheduled appointment even if it’s in their calendar.
Online practice management software like coreplus make it easy to set up automatic appointment reminders. Set them up and trial different options such as sending a reminder 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours prior to the appointment. Find out what works the best for your practice.
If possible, briefly reiterate your cancellation policy in the reminders so that the clients understand the consequences. You could also set up a function where clients can simply reply “Cancel”.
#7. Create a welcoming environment.
While there are not a lot of studies to back this up, creating a welcoming environment for clients has been shown to have some effect on client attendance. Make sure that your waiting areas and consultation rooms are clean, well-decorated and comfortable. Set a comfortable temperature, play quiet music, use less harsh lights and empty the bins regularly. This can help your clients feel more at ease and feel more encouraged to return. Additionally, a welcoming environment can also encourage your referrers to send clients your way.
#8. Ask for feedback.
Ask your clients for feedback about your sessions to improve client attendance. It’s not easy for clients to criticise you directly, so encourage the use of anonymous forms in person or online.
Feedback from clients can help you understand what you’re doing well and what you can improve. This is especially useful if you feel you often have trouble building rapport with your clients. It can also help you improve the practice environment and the behaviour of other practitioners.
If you have multiple practitioners in your practice, incorporate feedback into your regular meetings so that you can support each other in a transparent manner.
#9. Find out why they cancelled.
Feedback forms are more general and can also encourage happy clients to give you feedback on what you’re doing well. However, it’s still important to ask clients directly when they cancel without notice or don’t turn up. Call or message them and find out, in a kind manner, the reasons they didn’t attend. You can use this opportunity to remind them about your cancellation policy, or use their feedback to make some changes.
#10. Offer solutions to their inability to attend.
If your clients’ reason for cancelling is an avoidable issue, help them understand that you’re there to help. Offer reasonable solutions to encourage them to attend next time.
For example, if possible, you could offer alternative methods like phone or video sessions for a client that lives too far away. If it’s an issue of schedule or availability, offer to stay late one night a week to accommodate them. For a client who is having financial difficulties, you could offer a concession rate depending on circumstances.
There will always be clients who would still not show up even after you’ve gone above and beyond to accommodate them. While that can be disheartening, there will also always be clients who really needed the extra support and genuinely appreciate your efforts.
#11. Partner with referral sources.
Using some referral sources like Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help improve client attendance by having their own strict cancellation policies. And most of the time, EAP providers will pay you a cancellation fee if your EAP client fails to attend.
While this is a more involved process, having your own EAP contracts with small businesses can help alleviate some pressure, provided you put in place and enforce cancellation policies.
#12. Be on time.
Clients often have a (mis)conception that they will have a long waiting period once they get to their appointment. Sometimes this is unavoidable due to emergencies or other urgent matters, or simply because some sessions can run longer than expected. If this is a recurring problem, clients can start turning up late to their appointment or no show. After all, why would a client respect your time if they feel that you don’t respect theirs?
In order to improve client attendance, demonstrate the behaviour you expect from them. Create a sense of mutual respect by honouring your session times so that the client understands their obligation to show up and arrive on time as well.
#13. Discontinue seeing the specific client.
It’s not rare for clinicians to discontinue seeing a client who repeatedly cancels or no-shows. Clients who continue to cancel don’t only impact your schedule and revenue, but also prevent other clients from being treated by taking up your time.
If you decide to stop taking their appointments, explain why and give them plenty of options to seek services elsewhere. This can improve client attendance rates by lowering overall cancellation rates.
There are numerous ways to improve client attendance in your private practice. Although no single method is going to drastically improve attendance, a combination of the above approaches can help the overall client attendance. If you need assistance with implementing these methods or finding out the best options for your practice, reach out to the K&W consultants.