Patients and doctors are affected by missed appointments

No-shows are a problem for both doctors and patients.

When a patient misses, or fails to schedule, a follow-up or specialist appointment they are not receiving the care recommended by their doctor.

And for physicians, when a patient no-shows, they’re left with an empty appointment space — which can be fiscally damaging in a predominantly fee-for-service payment system.

The Wall Street Journal cites a study on the issue, which “tracked nearly 7,000 primary-care patients age 65 or older … and discover[ed] that only 71% were ever scheduled for a needed follow-up appointment. Of those, 70% were actually seen at the specialist’s office, meaning that just 50% received the treatment that their primary-care doctor intended them to have.”

Scheduling an appointment with a specialist can be daunting for the older patient, who can be forgetful, anxious about the appointment, or has transportation issues.

These reasons contribute to the fact that missed specialist referrals comprise the biggest source of medical errors.

Computer-based scheduling systems can help, along with automated reminder letters, e-mails or calls. Most small physician practices lack systems to track specialist referrals, which puts them at a disadvantage when compared with large, integrated practices that house both primary care doctors and specialists.

Despite the cost of these systems, they should be strongly considered as we work to modernize our antiquated health IT system.