Reminder service brings smiles

November 15, 2009

Making phone calls to remind patients about upcoming appointments may become a thing of the past.

'Making phone calls to remind patients about upcoming appointments-and avoid having the risk of "dead zones" in a practice's examination and waiting rooms due to missed or broken appointments-may become a thing of the past.

An automated system (Smile Reminder, http://www.smilereminder.com/) allows eye-care professionals to send customized text and e-mail messages to remind patients of appointments. In turn, the system also allows patients to confirm appointments quickly and easily via an e-mail or text message.

Patients want to keep their appointments, but it's easy to forget an appointment that was scheduled several days or weeks in advance, said Carey Van Orden, marketing director, Smile Reminder, Lehi, UT.

In addition to automated appointment reminders and confirmations, the system offers standard and personalized services that allow offices to simplify their daily routine and strengthen physician-patient relationships. These services include last-minute opening notices, birthday messages, e-newsletters, e-surveys, custom promotions, patient recall/re-care, e-newsletters, patient referrals, and even a video testimonial tool.

The platform helps health-care professionals boost their practices by improving staff efficiency, reactivating lost patients, reducing no shows, increasing loyalty, building brands, filling in cancellations, and generating new business, according to Van Orden.

The e-mail appointment reminders generated by the system are customized with the practice's look and feel. The e-mail messages also can offer several other options beyond appointment confirmations, including "Add to Calendar," "Map it with Google," "Refer-a-Friend," and "Check My Account," where the patient is linked to a patient portal to pay bills online and check scheduled appointments.

"[The automated appointment reminder system] provides office staff with extra time to handle more important business by eliminating the time commitment associated with confirming appointments and gives patients easy access to pertinent information without having to ask someone for it," Van Orden said.

Positive feedback

Such positive feedback has been the case at Clear Advantage Vision Correction Center, of Portsmouth, NH. The practice has two optometrists and one ophthalmologist, N. Timothy Peters, MD. LASIK, bladeless LASIK, or PRK is performed on about 1,000 of the 3,000 to 4,000 patients seen each year at the center, according to Holly Venetos, center director. About 90% of patients have given the practice permission to contact them via e-mail.

"It definitely cuts down on the number of missed appointments, and it cuts down on the time we spend making phone calls," Venetos added. "It also allows us to fill missed appointment space with enough advance notice so that the doctor isn't sitting around.

"The center director is always looking for us to appeal to the 'X' and 'Y' generations," Dr. Peters said. "[The automated appointment reminder system] seemed like an easy and inexpensive way to keep in touch with our patients. The investment to start up was just a few hundred dollars, and it costs just a couple hundred a month to keep it going. Because it also can do mass e-mails and newsletters, I'm convinced it saves us money in postage and printing alone."

According to Dr. Peters, people are increasingly turning to technology, and appointment card reminders and phone calls quickly are becoming "old ways" of doing business. It's still important to ask patients for their preferred method of contact, however.

"A LASIK patient, for example, may be more likely to request text or e-mail messages, while [a] cataract patient still may prefer a phone call," he said.

Venetos added that the reminder system has helped the practice increase its referral marketing.

"Most refractive practices-and probably most medical practices, in general-are horrible about asking for referrals. I don't know if we don't know how to or if we're not sure of the most opportune time," she said. "With [the reminder system], there's a 'Refer a Friend' icon on every e-mail it sends out. All patients have to do is click on that icon. Now our satisfied patients can refer their friends and family to us with just the click of a button."