Questions and Answers
- What are some advantages of a hosted solution?
- How will our customers receive our messages?
- How will my messages be personalized for each customer?
- How will we transfer or receive our appointment data?
- Should we send messages in languages other than English?
- What Rules and Features do we need?
- In addition to appointment reminders, what other types of messages do we want to send?
- What kind of responses do we need?
- What message results should we expect?
- What kind of Technical Support or other add-on’s will be needed?
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Implementing the right appointment reminder system provides increased efficiency and increased revenue for businesses. Sending automated reminder messages reduces missed appointments and staff workload. The following 10 questions are asked and answered to assist you in determining if a messaging system is right for you and to help evaluate how to implement your own appointment reminder systems.
Questions and Answers
1. What are some advantages of a hosted solution?
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2. How will our customers receive our messages?
Appointment reminder systems should support the delivery platforms that your clients expect. The three most important methods include text messaging, telephone, and email. Less important and more expensive today are postcards or letters.
Based on the millions of messages we send every day, text messages are the most responded to and most in demand type of message. If you are still sending postcards, or even in some cases phone calls or emails, you may be behind the times. This will depend largely on your clientele, so we encourage you to ask them how they want to be reminded.
In fact, thanks to Meaningful Use, some medical practices qualify for special government discounts just for contacting their patients the way the patients prefer!
If you are sending phone calls, it is important to know what is considered a completed call, and how long a call can be for the cost quoted. For instance, if you are paying .05/per call, but a call is only 30 seconds—what are you paying if you go over 30 seconds? How does it add up if you leave a voicemail of 1 minute and 5 seconds for your new customers including Date, Time, Location, Directions, and a reminder to bring Insurance cards? It seems more accurate to say that the price in that instance would be .15/per call. Or, how is call transferring charged? Per minute? And at what rate? Unless you have dedicated staff that takes transferred calls quickly and with priority, one transferred call could cost over a dollar.
3. How will my messages be personalized for each customer?
There are situations where you may want to send one standard message to many unrelated customers. In most situations, however, an automated call is more likely to receive a positive customer response when it includes information that is personalized to that client.
A personalized message often includes a kind and thoughtful greeting that includes an introduction and the customer’s first name as well as the appointment date and time. A slightly more detailed message could include a location or a message to a parent, for more than one family member. Even further custom messaging might include a balance-due amount or other individualized information.
We suggest for outgoing messages, the less private information, the better. If you wish to share lab results or other private health details, an inbound option is often a better choice for this type of information.
In addition to appointment details, new customers specifically, will appreciate instructions on what to bring or how to prepare for the appointment. Such preparation can significantly reduce the amount of inbound follow-up phone calls as well as intake time at the front desk.
An appointment reminder system should offer you the flexibility you require to personalize and meet your clients’ needs.
4. How will we transfer or receive our appointment data?
An automated appointment reminder system is dependent upon its source of appointment and customer data. Healthcare providers, for example, utilize practice management or EHR (Electronic Health Record) systems to schedule appointments.
These systems will usually have an export or print-to-file function that will create a data file in a format that can be imported into an appointment reminder system. Alternatively, some appointment reminder systems can retrieve data via ODBC. In fact, some companies have partnerships with EHR companies, allowing very smooth and bi-directional file transfer integrations.
Finally, if your own circumstances are vastly different, many appointment reminder systems often include a basic appointment scheduler. No matter the method the data is received, the appointment data is then combined with text or voice phrases to produce a personalized message. Here are some examples:
“Good morning! This is Dr. Taylor’s office calling to remind Jennifer of an appointment at our Lakeside office on Tuesday, May 16th at 2:30pm. Be sure to bring your insurance card and picture ID. Press 1 to Confirm, 2 to Cancel, 3 to Repeat, or 4 to connect to an Operator”
Hi Jennifer, this is Dr. Taylor reminding you of your upcoming appointment at 123 Lakeside on Tuesday, May 15th at 2:30pm. Reply CONFIRM or CANCEL.
After sending the message and receiving a response, the results of the call are logged and depending upon the system and the integration, those results may be received via a report, online look-up, or pushed completely back into your database.
5. Should we send messages in languages other than English?
Based upon the needs of your customers, you may want to provide them with the option of receiving messages in other languages.
If so, you will need to investigate what languages the system supports, or if you can customize the system adding additional languages.
Also, it is important to find out if you will need to provide the translation, or if this is a service they will provide and what that cost could be. Finally, when setting up your messages, remember that you will need a way for the customer to select another language. (“Para Español, oprime dos.”)
6. What Rules and Features do we need?
Calling Rules are perhaps one of the most important features of any appointment reminder system. They determine how the system should behave. Here are some examples of important and commonly used calling rules:
- Message Preference. Most EHRs or databases include a place to select a preferred contact method. In fact, to meet Meaningful Use guidelines, this is necessary. Your reminder system will also need this information to either send a text, phone call, or email. Then, based on how you schedule your messages, you can send a follow-up via the same method or a different one. For instance, many of our customers like to send a voice call a week before an appointment and a text the day before. If you don’t already have Message Preferences on your standard paperwork, it is an excellent thing to add and it shows your clients that you care how they want to be contacted.
- Calling Hours. This is where you determine the best time to send your messages. It is good to consider whom your clients are and when they are most likely to take your call, or to see your message. For instance, do you need to make all calls between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, or would your customers prefer to receive calls during the day? If you are sending emails, you can send your messages at any time, day or night, and if you are texting, maybe the lunch hour would be best.
As you can see, Calling Rules are very important because without them you may be sending messages in ways that you or your customers don’t appreciate.
In addition to calling Rules there are a number of features that most automated messaging systems should offer. This list includes our most requested:
- Intelligent Text Routing. In case you didn’t notate if a phone number was a text number or a landline, there is technology that can determine that for you and then send either a text or a phone call accordingly.
- Text / Email replies. Some people take a while to respond to text or email messages. Therefore, the results may not be as quick as they are with phone calls. For this reason, you may want to find a system that is proactively notifying you or your staff anytime these results come in. When shopping around, find out how you will know if someone replies at the very last minute. Will you get a text or email, report, or some other notifications of changes, or will you have to login or refresh the results every so often.
- Voicemail/Answering Machine Detection. When making phone calls, an automated message is played—with Answering Machine Detection, the system will attempt to determine if it has reached a live caller or voicemail. It is important to have this ability so that you can setup your messages to suit either a voicemail, or a live person. For instance, you will not want a message that says, “press one to connect to the Operator now,” left on your customers’ Voicemail. That won’t work. Instead, that message should be assigned to Live answering and a different one, perhaps asking a customer to call your office, should be left on their Voicemail. Good Answering Machine Detection is a must.
- Retry/Alternate Phone numbers. Customers often ask what will happen if they use the phone method and cannot reach someone on the first try. Most automated messaging systems will retry that same number at least one or two times depending upon the rules that are set up. Some will even instead dial a second or third number to reach a customer if necessary. As long as you have that contact information, you should be able to use it the way you want.
- Family Member Check. Sometimes, a couple of children in the same family have an appointment at the same time. A good reminder system needs to handle these two appointments as one reminder. It’s just a little nicer than having your customers answer multiple calls in a row. If the phone number is the same, or the email is the same, one message instead of several is important and will be better received by your clients.
Do Not Call. Every single database, EHR, and automated messaging system should have a way to add certain people to a Do Not Call list. Sometimes, even with a Do Not Call list, employees entering the data may make a mistake. Therefore, it is good to have a couple different levels of security to block the system from calling those customers. Make sure the systems you choose have this feature, it could help avoid lawsuits and possible HIPAA violations.
7. In addition to appointment reminders, what other types of messages do we want to send?
Appointment reminders are the most common message sent by a messaging system, however, there are many others. Here are some examples:
- Emergency notifications
- Announcements of new services
- Change of address notices
- “Elder check” calls
- Shot clinic reminders
- Inclement weather announcements
- Billing or Past-due notifications
- Prescription refill reminders
- Safety alerts
- Lab Result Notifications
- Birthday & Holiday greetings
- Delivery details
- Marketing promos
To answer this question however, it is important to consider the types of calls your staff are currently handling. The goal here is to make things easier for your employees while saving you money and time. It also doesn’t hurt to use messages as a way to build and continue a professional relationship with your clients. Sending them a birthday message for instance will keep you on their minds and show how thoughtful you are.
The flexibility of your appointment reminder system to handle multiple kinds of messages will greatly increase its value to your business. Find out if your system can be as creative as you are, and if there are hidden costs for setting up additional messages.
8. What kind of responses do we need?
A system with Interactive Voice Response (IVR) capabilities is able to recognize touchtone (DTMF) signals or voice responses. Such a system could conduct an automated poll or survey by calling a customer, asking questions and then recording the customer’s touchtone or verbal responses.
Some solutions include a speech recognition engine that can understand words or phrases spoken in English and other languages. For example, a customer could respond to an appointment reminder call by saying “confirm” or “cancel.”
Systems that allows a combination of both a touch tone response and speech recognition are quite common, so you will need to decide which to use, particularly when setting up your system. Additionally, if you have clients that are often cancelling at the last minute, or claim they didn’t know they had an appointment, you might want to consider recording your messages or response. Before you do that however, find out the ins and outs of recording by reading our Recording Laws Whitepaper.
If you are sending texts, you will also want your clients to have the ability to reply with more than just confirm or cancel. They should be able to “stop” or “opt out” or even reply with a detailed message to “Please call me so I can reschedule, because something came up.” You will want the ability to know what they are saying and not simply have an error for these types of texted replies.
Even if you have no requirement for polls or surveys, the ability to have detailed customer responses in these manners can provide you with very important message results, whether for confirming appointments, proving that messages were received, using for technical support or anything else.