practice management

Patient Recall: Why You Need It and How to Start

Do you ever wonder if it is worth your time to focus on patient recalls? Do you get stuck on figuring out how to initiate the process? Do you resist picking up the phone? If this sounds familiar, you'll want to hear our tips.

5 Reasons Why You Need To Recall Your Patients Now

1. It Pays Well

If you chose to be a pediatrician, your main motivation was probably to provide kids with the best care possible, with financial gain taking a back seat. That said, working to remain financially viable is not something to feel bad about; you need to generate sufficient revenue in order to stay in practice and help your patients.

In a pediatric office, recalling patients is primarily about getting well visits on the schedule. You may think you need to stack your schedule with as many sick visits as possible in order to generate income. But with well visits providing 2.5 times more revenue per visit on average, you would do better to see fewer patients overall, with more of the appointments being well visits.

2. It Fills Your Schedule

Every opening in your schedule is a lost opportunity to help a child. You can't predict the need for sick visits, nor can you recall for them. Consistently having well visits on your calendar ensures you minimize gaps in your schedule and manages the over-demand for well visits that happens before school starts every year.

3. It Increases Your Value To Patients

When you reach out to your patients, they feel cared for. Parents often spend time looking for answers to healthcare questions online, distracted by resources that don't always have their best interests in mind. When you make sure they never miss a well visit, and you take the time to personally and thoroughly address their questions and needs during that appointment, they feel even more cared for. When your patients feel valued, they value you and will want to make you their primary resource for all of their healthcare questions and needs.

4. You Have To Do It Anyway

Recalling patients and getting them in the door for well visits is good preventive care, and preventive care is part of PCMH Recognition as well as a common Pay-for-Performance measure. Providing  preventive services is a requirement in every quality measurement system.

5. It's Good For Your Patients

1 out of 4 kids between the ages of 3-6, and 35% of 7-11 year olds have not been seen for a well visit in the past year. That translates to hundreds of thousands of kids nationwide who are missing necessary healthcare, and hundreds in your own practice. Recalling is a good way to find patients who are past due for a well visit. These visits can unearth many issues that may not have been addressed previously such as scoliosis, hearing or vision issues, eating disorders, developmental issues, or family violence just to name a few.

Maybe you have avoided making recalls a regular part of your routine because you don't have time to devote hours to being on the phone. In a way, recall is a misnomer, as the techniques you can use encompass more than picking up the phone. Think of it as a broad concept; any strategy you can use to get patients back in the door is a recall tool.

 7 Ways to Recall Patients

1. A Good Old-Fashioned Phone Call

Yes, we just said it's not all about making calls, but... calling your patients is still a great way to get them scheduled, particularly if you get them on the line and can book an appointment right then and there. Sometimes there is a fear that our call will be viewed as an annoyance, but in our experience most patients appreciate it and are glad to know we are thinking of them. Many times they'll say they had been meaning to call and are glad you beat them to it.

Consider hiring a staff member to make these calls for a few hours in the evenings after the office closes. Don't balk at the extra payroll expense; if you get even one visit scheduled from those calls, the revenue it will generate will more than cover your costs, and over the course of a few hours it is highly likely you will get more than one patient on the schedule.

2. Electronic Notifications

You can use secure email or text messaging to reach out to patients. These reminders can be set up as an automated process and scheduled to go out on a certain date and time, allowing you to "set it and forget it."

3. The Doctor In The Exam Room

Every patient who goes into an exam room with a doctor should know when their next appointment is before they leave the office. If the patient is there for a well visit, make sure next year's well visit is booked before they walk out the door. If they are there for a sick visit, schedule the follow-up and also make sure to schedule the next well visit if one is not on the books. Whatever the case, before the appointment comes to an end, the suggestion of scheduling the next appointment should be made.

When approached by front desk staff, patients often try to leave without scheduling the next visit. Too often their promise to call soon gets forgotten, time goes by, and the patient becomes overdue for preventive care. However, if the doctor recommends a specific time frame when they would like to see the patient again, it tends to carry more weight and can make it easier to get the patient on the schedule.

4. Letters & Flyers

Send out personalized patient letters via email or on paper that are name, age, and language specific. Use the patient's name as much as possible. Explain what you will do for them at a well visit. Don't assume your patients always know what you have to offer; you need to tell them, and create a sense of urgency so they realize how important it is to stay on top of their own preventive care.

You can also use this letter to save time at the actual appointment, set expectations, and improve care. Provide examples of common topics covered at well visits for their age range, then suggest they bring a list of questions to cover at the appointment. You can also direct patients to online forms they can fill out prior to coming in. This both saves time the day of the visit, and gives you a preview of what needs to be addressed.

Patient recall letters are also a great opportunity to market your practice in general. Use the back of the letter, or add a separate flyer into the mailing where you describe something about your practice you would like your patients to know about. For example, if you recently hired a new Nurse Practitioner who specializes in well visits for teenage girls, you can use the back of the letter or flyer to tell patients more about this new staff member and what they can offer.

A good recall letter will typically give a 10-20% return if it goes out to an active patient pool. That means 200-400 new appointments on the schedule if you mail the letter to 2,000 patients, and that additional revenue is well worth your time and energy.

5. Leverage Your Staff

Train all staff members who answer the phone to check if a patient is overdue for a well visit anytime they are on a call. If a patient needs to come in for a sick visit and is overdue for a well visit, have your staff offer to schedule them for both at the same time. Every time a patient is at the front desk, make sure the next well visit gets put on the schedule.

6. Meet The Scheduling Needs Of Your Patients

If your office hours are perfect for you, but bad for your patients, consider shifting your hours to boost visit volume. Adding after hours or weekend time slots can help, and you can reserve these special times just for well visits. Make sure to tell patients and promote these new hours in advance. Prior to adding extra hours, put out a patient survey asking for input on the most preferable days and times so that you can give your patients what they want.

Adding extra hours does not mean you have to work more. Many pediatricians are looking for part-time hours. Consider hiring someone to provide well visit appointments 2-3 evenings a week for a few hours a night. If that physician added just 20 well visits a week, at $200 per visit, that is $4,000 per week, and potentially an additional $200K in revenue over the course of a year. Small scheduling additions can add up to a significant increase in revenue over time.

7. Focus On Patient Retention

Sometimes patients reach a certain age, and want to see a different physician. They may feel so awkward telling you this that they end up leaving the practice and going somewhere else entirely. You can head this off by normalizing it, and bringing it up with your patients. Tell them this is a common thing, and that it is okay if they want to switch to another provider in your practice. You can even suggest someone who you think would be a good fit. Keeping the patient in the practice benefits the practice as a whole. Taking a proactive approach negates having to call an overdue patient, only to find they left the practice long ago without telling you.

3 Things To Do Before You Start Patient Recalls

1. Make Room In Your Schedule

If your recalling efforts yield hundreds of new appointment requests, you need to have planned for room in your schedule to accommodate them. The further out you schedule your well visits, the better your well visit ratios are. It's a smart idea to schedule out 12 months in advance. If you don't open your schedule that far ahead, the patient who comes in today and is not due for another well visit for a year will not be able to get on the calendar, and you risk having them fall off the radar and back onto the recall list.

Sometimes practices can be reluctant to schedule a year in advance as people don't know yet when they may be out on vacation. One way around this is if a provider has 3-4 weeks of vacation a year, have them block off 12 weeks a year in the calendar. As the dates get closer, open them up if the provider is not going away. These extra spots can be used specifically to fill with well visits that result from recalls and there are still schedule blocks left for providers to be out of the office.

2. Decide Who To Recall First

You can't recall your entire patient list at once and expect to fit everyone in the schedule. It's important to decide the order you will call people in. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Run a report and find out which patients have the highest paying insurance. Recall those patients first. Use the revenue you get from these visits to put back into the practice to pay for more recall efforts such as paying for automated recall services or hiring additional staff to provide well visits and focus on recall strategies.
  2. Run a report to discover which patients are most overdue for a well visit and recall them.
  3. Run another report to see which patients have the worst chronic conditions and recall them.
  4. Keep using your EHR to run reports on various topics such as a specific diagnosis, specific procedures, most at-risk kids, and recall those groups one by one.

3. Plan On Multiple Rounds And Formats

People usually need to see something more than once to remember it, but if it always looks the same, they may stop paying attention. For maximum effect, your recall strategy should include multiple rounds of recalls that employ a variety of techniques and styles. For example, if you started with a secure text, try a paper letter, and after that, an emailed flyer. You can also try different styles. Try new fonts and colors, or new talking points if you are on the phone. Each patient on your list should receive at least three rounds of recall techniques. If you still have received no response after that, you can feel alright about removing them from your recall list.

There are endless options for how to incorporate recall strategies into your practice. However you decide to go about it, making it a consistent part of your workflow is the key to success. Recalling patients boosts your revenue and ensures quality care for your patients.

Do you know the top mistakes of pediatricians? 

Courtney Edelson

For several years, Courtney Edelson was the Marketing Content Manager at PCC. She wrote for the PCC Blog, and created additional content to keep pediatricians up to date on important healthcare industry news and trends. In addition to being a lifelong writer, Courtney brought nearly a decade of healthcare practice management experience to her work.