November 1, 2002

VMG to use automated appointment reminders

Featured Image

From left, Drs. Charles Branch, Donald Bryan, Oscar Conner, Joe Cromeans, and William Edwards celebrate their classmates at last week’s VUSM Reunion. The group of doctors are among the Quinq class of 1953. (photos by Dana Johnson)

VMG to use automated appointment reminders

Beginning Nov. 1, VMG will pilot the use of automated phone calls to remind patients of their appointments. The system will be tested first by medical specialties, pediatrics and cardiology, and after a two-week evaluation it will be turned on in stages across the rest of VMG, with implementation to be completed by December. The vendor is SmartTalk, whose system is also in use at Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and Ochsner Clinic, among other places.

The phone reminders system will interface with Epic, VMG’s system for outpatient scheduling and billing. It will call patients three days before their appointment, operating 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily except Sundays and holidays. Using a touch-tone phone, patients can confirm, cancel, or receive recorded information on how to reschedule their appointment. The system will provide daily reports for each VMG practice group, including cancellations, confirmations and requests to reschedule (reports will be forwarded to each group’s network printer). The system will give practice groups an opportunity to fill in behind cancellations with new appointments.

“Patient no-shows mean lost revenue and wasted capacity, creating an expensive drain on VMG resources,” said David Posch, chief operating officer for VMG. Nearly a year ago VMG began sending reminder letters to patients. Sent only when there is a 10-day or longer lag between the patient request and the appointment, the letters go to only about half of all patients, but are associated with a significant one-point reduction in the no-show rate (from 9.9 percent to 8.9 percent). At today’s volume, a one-point reduction in the no-show rate translates as a $2 million net revenue increase.

“The potential return on investment from the automated phone reminders is extremely positive,” Posch said. Reduced use of the reminder letters brings additional savings; the letters and maps will be sent only to those patients new to a given VMG practice group.

The automated reminders comply with all patient privacy regulations. By request, practice groups can opt out of the system or exclude calls to individual patients.

SmartTalk has some additional features that VMG will consider implementing later. A feature called LabTalk relays lab results, together with any recorded caregiver commentary, to patients who call in with a PIN. SmartTalk can also be used to remind patients to schedule routine preventive screenings and immunizations.