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Automated appointments: Grand Forks firms use text, email for reminders

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Grand Forks health care providers and others are turning to mobile technology to remind patients and clients of upcoming appointments.

Dr. Rory Manke, of Manke Family Dentistry in Grand Forks, holds a cellphone with the text alert message displayed. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
Rory Manke of Manke Family Dentistry in Grand Forks, N.D., holds a cellphone with the text alert message displayed. (Jesse Trelstad/Forum News Service)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Grand Forks health care providers and others are turning to mobile technology to remind patients and clients of upcoming appointments.

Automated text messages and emails notifying people of upcoming appointments are helping reduce time spent by office staff on those tasks, as well as cut down on the number of missed appointments. For some, the new ways of communicating with patients are replacing traditional methods.

"A lot of people communicate with text and emails, opposed to postcards and phone calls," said Dr. Rory Manke, dentist at Manke Family Dentistry in Grand Forks. "I think (for) a lot of people, it's just easier to connect with and communicate with our office."

Manke said his business just started sending out automated text messages this fall but has received positive feedback so far. Not only has it saved employees time that otherwise would have been spent by mailing postcards or making phone calls, but Manke hopes it will improve the already high rate of patients coming to their scheduled appointments.

"We don't have a very high no-show rate to begin with," he said. "I am expecting and hoping to see a little improvement in that."

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There appears to be a number of companies providing appointment reminder systems, including Talksoft and Lighthouse. The national no-show rate among medical practices is about 16 percent, according to Talksoft, and reducing that rate can help boost revenues.

But the use of automated alerts extends beyond the health care industry.

Lin Glimm, who owns Salon Seva in Grand Forks with his wife, said their system alleviates the time spent on making confirmation calls.

"If we see that somebody received a text message, we feel like ... we don't need to remind them again," he said. "They don't have to have an alarm set in their calendar, they'll get a reminder that will pop up a few hours before their appointment saying, 'Hey, you have a haircut appointment at 3 p.m.'"

Clients can opt out of the reminder service, Glimm said, and some people still prefer to use a traditional paper planner.

"But for those who don't like to go that route, these kinds of reminders are what it's all about for them," he said.

Dakota Dental Associates in Grand Forks is trying to be a "green office" and use as much email and text messages as they can instead of sending a postcard, said hygiene coordinator Nicole Kuchera. She said many people who receive a reminder text message within two hours of their appointment say they would have forgotten about it otherwise.

The system at Dakota Dental also allows for two-way texting, Kuchera said.

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"If they need to communicate with us, they can text our office," she said. "People are kind of tied to their phones, it seems."

Altru Health System also recognized the ubiquity of cellphone usage. It currently has 3,000 people using text reminders, said Bre Berberich, manager of Altru's patient access.

Altru hopes to make that service more well-known in hopes additional people will sign up.

"From the patient side, it gives access for those other patients who are on a wait list or who want to be seen today," Berberich said. "So if we know somebody's not going to come, it gives the access to another patient."

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