Close-up of hands using smartphone.Appointment scheduling is a key concern of many therapists. You want to support your clients, but you can’t help if they don’t show up to sessions. When clients don’t show up, they’re missing the chance to make progress in therapy, and you’re losing out on the session fee (unless you charge for missed appointments). 

Clients miss sessions for any number of reasons, not just because they forgot an appointment. But most people do lead fairly busy lives. Even people who have fewer schedule constraints may be dealing with complicated or emotionally draining situations that make remembering commitments difficult, especially those scheduled several weeks earlier. 

While therapy usually happens weekly, you might see some clients only once or twice a month. People who don’t come to therapy weekly, or who don’t always come at the same time, might have a harder time remembering appointments than those who have a set weekly appointment time. 

By using appointment reminders effectively, you can make it easier for all of your clients to keep track of therapy appointments. 

Appointment Reminders Do More than Jolt Memories

A good appointment reminder has two functions. First, it helps clients remember the session they scheduled. Second, it offers them an option to cancel or reschedule if something has come up and they can’t make it to the appointment. 

Offering clients the chance to cancel several days before the appointment (and giving them an easy way to reschedule) saves both of you money. They won’t have to pay for the missed appointment, and you may be able to schedule a different client for the now-available session. 

Making it easy for clients to cancel and reschedule can also make it less likely they’ll simply stop showing up for sessions. Some people might feel embarrassed after forgetting a session and avoid calling to reschedule until several weeks or even months have passed. This halts progress in therapy, which can negatively affect a client’s mental health. 

How to Send Effective Appointment Reminders

You’ll want to consider the following tips when trying to decide on the most effective type of appointment reminder for your therapy practice:

  • Ask your clients how they want you to contact them. Not everyone answers their phone regularly, especially when they don’t recognize the number. Some people also avoid listening to voicemails if they aren’t expecting a call. Research suggests many people prefer to receive communication by text or email and may find text messages most helpful as a result. Using your client’s preferred method of contact can help ensure they get and read their reminders. 
  • Include a link or phone number so your client can cancel or reschedule the appointment. A client who receives a reminder for an appointment and discovers a schedule conflict may feel stressed or anxious. Not having an easy way to fix the situation can only add to those feelings. Reminders that also tell clients how to easily make cancellations and new appointments can help solve this problem and increase client satisfaction.
  • Schedule reminders to give clients enough time to reschedule their appointment. If you charge for missed sessions that aren’t cancelled at least a full business day in advance, you’ll want to send a reminder at least two business days before the session. If your scheduling software allows, you may want to send two reminders to clients who have more time between sessions. 
  • Ask clients what’s working or not working for them. If a client misses an appointment, take the opportunity to ask if appointment reminders are effective. Maybe they’d prefer a different contact format, or maybe a technology issue has prevented them from receiving reminders. Do you send too many reminders or not enough? By checking in, you can try to solve the problem, but you can also let your client know you’re invested in the therapy process with them. 

Appointment Reminders and HIPAA

You can easily send HIPAA-compliant appointment reminders, even by text message. HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) works to protect the confidentiality of people receiving health care services. 

To remain compliant with HIPAA, your reminders can’t include any protected health information (PHI). This would include your credentials, the name of your practice, the fact that the appointment is for therapy, and any other information that could breach client confidentiality

You also need to tell clients you’ll send appointment reminders during their intake session, unless they prefer not to receive them, and offer the chance to opt out of reminders. 

When sending text appointment reminders, avoid any specific details. But to clients who’ve agreed to receive email or text messages, you can include the following information:

  • Their name
  • Your name (without credentials like LCSW or LMFT) 
  • The time and location of the appointment—provided the location doesn’t reveal the type of appointment (For example, “1234 Example Lane” is appropriate; “Local Addiction Recovery Center” is not.)

Keeping client contact information up to date is always a good business practice, since this helps ensure the reminder goes to the right person.  

Return on Investment

Quality appointment reminder systems, like other therapy practice software, aren’t free. You might wonder if the cost of this software is worth it. It’s important to make the best decision for your finances and practice, but in general, effective software systems are a good investment. Even one or two missed sessions can represent a significant loss for new therapists who don’t have a full schedule of clients. 

Multiple studies looking at the use of appointment reminders in various health care fields indicate reminders usually help decrease appointment no-shows. Recent research from 2016 suggests text message reminders may be particularly effective. If your reminder system saves you even one cancellation or no-show each month, it may have already paid for itself. 

If you don’t already use software to help coordinate scheduling, intake, and other administrative tasks, consider trying out practice management software such as TherapyPartner. GoodTherapy has partnered with TherapyPartner to help you access the tools you need to simplify billing, scheduling, and even therapy note-taking. This allows you to spend less time sorting through administrative tasks and to focus on your primary goal: supporting your clients. 
 
References:

  1. Boksmati, N., Butler-Henderson, K., Anderson, K., & Sahama, T. (2016). The effectiveness of SMS reminders on appointment attendance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Medical Systems, 40(4). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26852337
  2. Kannisto K. A., Koivunen, M. H., & Välimäki, M. A. (2014, October 17). Use of mobile phone text message reminders in health care services: A narrative literature review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(10). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25326646
  3. McLean, S. M., Booth, A., Gee, M., Salway, S., Cobb, M., Bhanbhro, S., & Nancarrow, S. A. (2016, April 4). Appointment reminder systems are effective but not optimal: Results of a systematic review and evidence synthesis employing realist principles. Patient Preference and Adherence, 10(1), 479-499. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4831598
  4. Parikh, A., Gupta, K., Wilson A. C., Fields, K., Cosgrove, N. M, & Kostis, J. B. (2010). The effectiveness of outpatient appointment reminder systems in reducing no-show rates. American Journal of Medicine, 123(6). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20569761
  5. Storck, L. (2017). Policy statement: Texting in healthcare. Online Journal of Nursing Informatics, 21(1). Retrieved from https://www.himss.org/library/policy-statement-texting-health-care