Veterinary practices are and have been for some time, fully booked weeks in advance. New pet owners are growing faster than ever before, thanks to unprecedented adoptions during the pandemic. As a result, the term “shopper” is being redefined. 

Previously, shoppers were people who would call several practices, schedule appointments at each, and then just turn up at the practice with the lowest quoted estimate. Now,  shoppers have taken on a new meaning. They’re still calling multiple practices and scheduling multiple appointments, but now they only turn up for the soonest appointment time.

According to the AAHA, one out of every ten to eleven appointments you have in a day will be missed. This could amount to 225 no-shows over the course of a year. What methods can you put in place right now to reduce no-show appointments? How can you inform a client that the time of your employees and veterinarians is precious and should not be taken advantage of?

Appointment Deposits

Due to the increasing number of ‘no-shows,’ some veterinary practices are now implementing appointment deposit requirements or charging a ‘no-show’ fee. 

Consider policies to make sure you’re only applying these types of fees to applicable clients. For example, consider a “no-show” fee after the second or third missed appointment. Or, require deposits for new clients only.

Keep in mind that deposit requirements may upset some of your current or prospective clients. They may approach your practice with the question, “why am I paying at all before having received any type of services?

Whether or not a deposit is required or a no-show fee is charged, most veterinary practices have increased the number and types of appointment reminders and confirmations that a pet owner receives. 

In general, the most effective practices for minimizing no-shows are to confirm an appointment electronically as soon as possible after it is made, and then after it’s made, and then stay in touch via targeted messaging or by two-way text after scheduling. Then remind them of the appointment details a couple days ahead of time. A system that allows clients to confirm “yes” or “no” after receiving the final reminder could improve the probability of them showing up.

Before an appointment is confirmed, some practices require pet owners to complete online paperwork. Others limit the number of new-client appointments they schedule per day to reduce the effects of no-shows. 

Practices sometimes double-book appointments, although they agree that this causes issues when both clients turn up. When one client consistently fails to show up and is informed that he or she will have to wait after arrival, double-booking may be the best option. Accepting additional drop-off appointments to fill the gaps left by no-shows is another option.

Deposit and no-show protocols must be clearly communicated to current and prospective clients, preferably in several ways and in a manner that pet owners must acknowledge. There are many advantages of clear communication. Not only would it be more difficult for a client to dispute the fee, but it can also deter clients from not showing up in the first place.

Of course, new clients should be informed of the policy before they make an appointment, but it should also be posted on the practice website and emailed to the pet owner as soon as the appointment is made and the deposit is paid. The policy should be sent to each active client or included in digital correspondence, and the no-show charge should be communicated in the same manner.

Keep in mind that clients who have an affinity with a particular doctor or team member are less likely to cancel an appointment because it would be seen as rude. Encouraging clients to see the same veterinarian at every visit is therefore also advantageous.

The “I Forgot” No Shows

There are many clients who don’t show because they forgot about their appointment. Leveraging technology can be key here. Send appointment confirmations and reminders to ensure your clients are aware, at several points in time, of their upcoming appointments. 

You can email, text, or send reminders through an app or email. PetDesk utilizes:

  • Emails optimized for both mobile and desktop
  • Text messages sent to cell numbers we find for you
  • Push notifications that integrate with client calendars
  • Postcards mailed to physical addresses

PetDesk uses information stored in your Practice Management Software to send digital reminders, then generates follow-up postcards to send via regular mail if there’s no client response helping prevent the “I forgot” no-show syndrome.

You can also use confirmation notifications to set expectations of your operations at your veterinary facility. Let clients know if you are continuing curbside appointments and what to expect once they arrive at your practice.

While it’s difficult to completely eliminate no-shows, PetDesk consumers who use automated veterinary alerts and confirmations have seen a 38 percent reduction in no-shows and have spent less time on the phone confirming appointments.

Get Your Staff Onboard

It’s critical that you have all of your staff onboard with your policies. Of course, a no-show means the staff may be able to take a much-needed break from the busy clinic operations. But, if your staff is in serious need of a break and are happy about a no-show, you may need a staff meeting to align around your practice’s scheduling goals.

It’s also important to let your staff know if any of your policies will be changing in regard to no-show appointments. If you decide to implement some type of deposit or fee, it’s critical your entire staff understand the policy so they are able to answer questions efficiently and consistently across the client base.

The Bottom Line

You can never ensure that any client who makes an appointment will show up, but by using the strategies outlined above, you will greatly minimize the number of “no-shows” at your veterinary practice. 

Quick reminders, prepaid deposits, and/or no-show fees can go a long way. The bottom line is to stop waiting for no-shows and start implementing steps to prevent them (as much as possible). The sooner you implement a plan, the sooner your practice will be on its way to higher client retention and less wasted time.