5 tips to prevent veterinary appointment no-shows

by By Stacee Santi, DVM

8 min read

Currently, the trend for clients needing a veterinary appointment is to treat the process like they are booking a reservation at PF Chang’s. The general concept is to book a reservation, but if you don’t want to wait that long, you call around. Eventually — maybe two to three reservations later — you find there is no wait at Olive Garden, so you head right over, forgetting to call the other restaurants and let them know.

I imagine the initial restaurants are having a “Bueller? Bueller?” moment when they call out the reservation name over the loudspeaker and no one replies.

So, how is it that veterinary practices have become similar to restaurants when it comes to no-shows? The reason is clear: People are less loyal and less likely to wait to see their primary veterinary care provider when their pet needs attention. Who can blame them?

But no-shows put tremendous pressure on the veterinary practice when the schedule is unpredictable and other clients are being turned away in anticipation of an appointment that never arrives.

Read on for five tips to minimize veterinary appointment no-shows.

1. Add the appointment to your client’s calendar

Ensure your appointment booking system has a confirmation process with a link to “add to calendar.” This will put the appointment in your client’s iCal or Google Calendar, and they’ll receive a reminder for it. Since the reminder will appear on the device your clients use most, which is probably their smartphone, it’s highly likely to get noticed and prompt them to cancel their appointment if they found veterinary care elsewhere.

2. Schedule rechecks via telemedicine

Telemedicine is an exceptionally convenient way to practice veterinary medicine. You can see all sorts of appointments through a veterinary telemedicine platform.

This can be accomplished through 2-Way Chat with picture and video sharing, or with a video consult. Our favorite way to schedule rechecks is to book a chat appointment with the client for the appropriate day. Then, let them know the veterinarian will be sending a message that day to perform the follow-up appointment, and that they can reply at their convenience. Need to charge for this? Have them pre-pay at the time of booking or invoice them in the app with our Virtual Payment feature. By freeing up this time, you can accommodate more pressing cases.

3. Give your clients options

Offer your clients the option to wait or drop off their pet for care. This will allow you to move faster through cases as a veterinarian and prevent an appointment no-show. Since a drop-off appointment can be treated as a technician appointment or a 10-minute slot, it’s less of an inconvenience if the client fails to show up.

Your clients will love the convenience of dropping their pet off for an appointment while they run errands, so this will help keep them loyal to your practice.

4. Create space for same-day appointments

One of my favorite ways to eliminate veterinary appointment no-shows is to adopt a first-come, first-served, walk-in strategy for the first one to two hours of your day. That means the early bird gets the worm and you will have the full day to work these cases in if they need diagnostic testing or time-consuming treatment. No reservations are allowed for these slots and no preference is given to anyone, meaning these spots can be used for anything from critically ill pets to nail trims.

5. Ask your clients for a personal commitment

Getting a client to verbally agree that they will let you know if they can’t make it can decrease veterinary appointment no-shows significantly.

This idea comes from a study done in a Chicago restaurant that was experiencing about 30% no-shows. People would call and reserve a table, then 30% of them wouldn’t show up or call to cancel. So, the owner had the receptionist change what she said when she took a booking. Instead of saying, “Please call back if you need to change or cancel your reservation,” she was instructed to ask, “Will you please call if you need to cancel your reservation?” and then pause. The pause was crucial because it allowed people to agree, verbally holding themselves accountable.

By laying a little preemptive guilt trip on your clients for not calling to cancel their veterinary appointment, you can help prevent no-shows.

Are your CSRs tired of calling clients to confirm appointments, only to reach the voicemail box of a person who likely won’t call if they aren’t coming? Vetsource’s Appointment Management feature can help. Schedule a demo of the Vetsource platform to learn more about how you can prevent veterinary appointment no-shows.

Stacee Santi, DVM

Stacee Santi, DVM

Dr. Stacee Santi founded Vet2Pet, the only customizable, all-in-one client engagement system for veterinary practices, which was acquired by Vetsource in 2022. Since earning her DVM from Colorado State University in 1996, Dr. Santi has accumulated more than 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, has spent significant time serving on various industry advisory boards, and served as 2020 president of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. Considered a key opinion leader on mobile applications and veterinary reward programs, and selected as 2021 Continuing Educator of the Year—Practice Management by Viticus Group, Dr. Santi is passionate about helping veterinary practices better connect with their clients so pets get the best care and veterinary professionals enjoy more fulfilling, balanced careers.

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