For many sleep centers, COVID-19 caused a shift from mostly PSGs to growth in HSATs. Disposables, drop-ship and curbside pick up options increased the convenience of providing qualified patients access to HSATs. However, many clinics still have trouble getting those patients into the clinic to return the device and receive their results and treatment.
Sleep centers face similar challenges with patients requiring in-lab testing. The fear of COVID-19 exposure, inconvenience of added protocols and processes, and undervaluing the significance of proper testing and treatment has led to an increase in appointment cancelations and patient no shows over the past year.
To help sleep centers overcome this challenge, we created a list of seven tips that can be easily implemented in your clinic to encourage patients to keep their appointments and minimize no shows at your sleep center.
1. Send Text Reminders
Implement a patient engagement solution that includes the option to send patients text reminders for various steps in the testing process. These messages can be useful for:
- Communicating protocols and check-in processes for the day of the appointment
- Setting expectations for in-lab testing
- Providing instructions for a successful HSAT experience and outcome
- Asking patients to bring the HSAT device back to the office after home testing is complete
- Reminding patients of their follow-up appointment with the clinician for results and treatment.
- Periodically checking in with the patient on adherence
For most sleep centers, sending reminders both one week prior and one day prior to the appointment is best practice.
2. Make Phone Calls
For patients who do not opt in to receive text reminders, phone calls are still a viable method for patient recall. Create a list of patients with appointments scheduled for the upcoming week. Reach out to them both one week before and one day prior to the appointment. This is not just a task for daytime techs, night techs can try to contact people in the evening hours when patients might be easier to reach.
Make patients feel more comfortable by providing answers to questions about their upcoming appointment such as: What should I bring? Do I take normal medications? When will I leave in the morning? Often, the patient will ask more questions of their own when they are talking to the actual night technologist who understands the process and has the clinical background.
3. Educate Patients
Educate your patients on the importance of coming back into your clinic after testing for results and treatment. Include educational materials with the HSAT device that explain the process and timeframe for treatment (download the image here to use in your sleep center educational materials).
It’s also critical to communicate the health implications for not receiving necessary treatment. Utilize patient testimonials in follow-up emails or text reminders. Group testimonials by co-morbid condition so they resonate with each patient’s individual health situation. Send text messages and make follow-up phone calls to check in with patients to encourage CPAP usage, help troubleshoot issues, and answer patients’ questions.
When patients have the proper education and resources, sleep technicians can help move them from an HSAT to autoPAP treatments, automatically bring them in after a NPSG, or provide them with extra education on better sleep practices. All of which can be covered by the patient’s insurance. Read our guide How to Use and Bill for Patient Education Codes, for tips on getting reimbursed for these important appointments.
4. Communicate COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts
Communicate procedural changes regarding patient check-in, pre-appointment health screening, PPE, face masks, etc., so patients are aware of what to expect when they arrive for their appointment. Reassure patients of cleaning protocols and spacing of patient appointments to make them feel comfortable about coming into your clinic. It is better to over communicate and set expectations to help your patients feel at ease and give them confidence in your mitigation efforts to keep them safe.
5. Create a Cancelation Policy
Write a cancelation policy and stick to it. Include cancelation fees if patients don’t notify the clinic within a certain timeframe. If a patient needs to cancel their appointment, don’t wait to reschedule, do it right away while you have them on the phone. In extreme cases of habitual “no showing”, it may be necessary to charge the patient for the HSAT device.
In addition, explain to patients why it’s so important to give notice of cancelation. Due to COVID-19 protocols, patients have been on long waiting lists and cannot get in for last minute appointments. By giving proper notification, you’re doing your part to help others.
6. Offer Telemedicine
For some patients, it’s much easier and safer to be seen from the comfort of their own home, thereby increasing the odds that they will keep their appointment. If your clinic offers HSAT, provide drop ship or curbside pickup and methods for shipping back the HSAT device. Schedule a follow-up appointment via video call. Since some aspects of this alternative workflow may be more costly for the clinic, you may want to be judicious about offering this option to patients.
7. Reach Out to Patients that have Canceled
This may seem obvious, but often your patients cancel appointments simply because their schedule is busy and they have too much going on. Proactively reach out to them to make the rescheduling process as easy as possible. Send an email, make a phone call, shoot them a text, or do all three, to remind them to reschedule the canceled appointment. Include information on safety and cleanliness protocols as well as your check in process, to ease their mind and set expectations about coming into the clinic. It’s also recommended to suggest available appointment times so they can easily reschedule when it is most convenient for them. Contacting patients on Monday with available time slots for later that same week is often easier for them to commit to than rescheduling out weeks in advance when something more pressing might come up and cause them to cancel once again.
Bonus: Bring Patients into the Lab for a Pre-Visit
Building a pre-test visit into the patient care plan can seriously cut down on no shows. For many patients, a simple visit to the lab for a tour can alleviate the fears they may have about their upcoming sleep test. Sleep teams can reassure patients that they’ll have their own room and bathroom and can use any type of pillow they want, including their own from home. For labs that can’t bring patients in, a virtual visit can be a great option, as well. Sleep labs can simply text or email a video tour to all their patients with a link to follow up if there are questions.
While administering sleep tests is part of a clinician’s daily routine, it is important to remember how daunting they can be for patients. Sleeping in the comfort of one’s own bed is already a physical challenge for patients. When coupled with the insecurity of being in an unfamiliar place, it can be emotionally overwhelming, as well. However, it’s easy to imagine how a patient could be positively impacted by an in-person or a video tour during their care journey.
At the end of the day, improving the lives of patients is the mission of sleep centers. In order to achieve that goal, you need to ensure patients return to your clinic for results, treatment, and education. Implementing the tips above can help reduce no shows in your sleep center and lead to higher levels of patient satisfaction and a healthier patient population.
Watch our video to see how EnsoSleep seamlessly fits into your existing workflow and reduces turnaround for sleep study results.