Phone, text, email – each form of communication is suitable for different amounts and types of content. Because email is secured behind a login, widely accessible, and holds more content than text or phone messages, it’s a commonly used method to send patient communication. Many practices however, don’t know how to optimize email to get the best results. This post will cover best practices to maximize your email conversions.

What is a “conversion?”

A “conversion” is when your patient takes the action you intended for them to take. For practices sending out an appointment reminder, the desired conversion is that the patient confirms or reschedules.

How to Increase Conversions

Thankfully, because email has been a tool of businesses and organizations for many years now, there is substantial research on what tactics work best to maximize email conversions.

Three keys to maximizing email conversions are:

  1. Break through the clutter of your patient’s inbox.
  2. Keep the focus of the content narrow.
  3. Utilize visuals to your advantage, but don’t overdo it.

1. Your email content begins in the inbox. Break through the clutter.

Choose the right name and email address from which to send the email.

You might think that you’ve won the battle if your appointment reminder emails are well-written and beautifully designed. But before your email can evoke a response from your patient, the patient has to notice it first. Approximately 205 billion emails are sent each day, of which 62 percent are considered unimportant. With all that clutter, numerous emails go unnoticed and unread. That’s why it’s critical to use a “From” name and a “Reply-to” email address that is specific to a person in your practice. Research shows that recipients are more likely to open an email from a specific individual working for an organization they recognize, than from an anonymous account such as

Write a brief, compelling subject line.

You have only about 50 characters for your subject line (about 32 for mobile devices). Make sure the subject line for your appointment reminder message grabs your patients’ attention, and if possible, indicates the action you need them to take. Use as little punctuation as possible. Here’s an example:

Subject: Confirm your appointment with XYZ Family Practice

Take advantage of message preview text.

The “preheader” is the section of your email that shows in the email preview in most email clients – Outlook, Gmail, etc. – before you actually click to open it. Typically systems display the first 75-100 characters of your message, but you can designate specifically what you want the preheader to say if you’re not going with the first few lines of text from the email. The first five to eight words are the most important, so choose them carefully.

“Please reply to confirm your appointment on March 31st at 11am with XYZ Family Practice, or contact us to reschedule.”

2. Don’t overwhelm your patients with too much information. Focus your email content on one clear goal.

While it’s tempting to want to accomplish all of our communication goals in one email, often that isn’t practical. The more information you present to patients, the less of it will be absorbed. The cognitive science discipline refers to this as “cognitive overload.” Nielsen Norman Group consultant Kathryn Whitenton explains:

“When the amount of information coming in exceeds our ability to handle it, our performance suffers. We may take longer to understand information, miss important details, or even get overwhelmed and abandon the task.”

Cognitive overload can lead to “action paralysis,” the inability to make a decision or take action. In a famous study by Columbia Business School professor Sheena Lyengar, Lyengar demonstrated that the more things we ask people to consider, the less likely they are to take action. Lyengar set up two jam sampling stations in a grocery store. While the larger selection attracted more onlookers, the smaller selection generated significantly more sales.

Use one primary call-to-action.

Because too many potential courses of action overwhelms users, you should stick with one primary call-to-action (CTA). A call-to-action is exactly what it sounds like – a prompt for patients to take action, aka “convert.” If your conversion goal is to get patients to confirm their appointment, then requesting patients to confirm would be the primary call-to-action leading to your desired conversion.

Secondary calls-to-action are for patients who can’t (or aren’t ready to) commit to the primary call-to-action. In the appointment reminder example, requesting patients to reschedule would be a secondary call-to-action, as it is desired when they cannot convert on the confirmation call-to-action.

Use links to the practice’s social media pages subtly.

Social share buttons, if used in a subtle position such as the footer, are not usually considered a distraction. If placed in a prominent location however, they could reduce your conversions on the primary call-to-action as patients are distracted by them. (Think how easy it is to end up in Facebook scroll-land, having forgotten what you meant to do when you first sat down at your computer!).

What NOT to Do

Don’t ask your patients to confirm or reschedule an appointment, create an account in the patient portal, AND update their contact information all in one email! And don’t try to cram educational content into an appointment reminder.

Marcia Tourtellott, a healthcare consultant who has presented patient engagement technology topics for the Medical Group Management Association, emphasizes the concept One Touch Point, One Goal, One Action. “As a society, we tend to try to put a lot of information in one message, and that’s not very effective,” Tourtellott said during a 2014 presentation. Using the example of sending a flu shot reminder, she mentioned the tendency to provide too much information — what the flu is, why the flu shot is important, where it can be received, etc. — when the reminder should simply state one clear message: Get a flu shot. Thankfully email communication is very affordable, so you can plan to send separate emails for each major goal.

3. Choose images strategically and use them sparingly.

Images are great for getting attention when emails are opened, and can increase comprehension if the image supports the written communication. There are some important caveats to remember, however.

  1. Poor quality, cheap-looking images reflect negatively on your practice’s brand image, and give patients the impression that your practice is at best not up-to-date – or at worst that you are struggling financially. Choose modern, professional quality images.
  2. Only use images that draw attention and help patients comprehend faster. For example, an image of the building in which your practice is located is great for helping new patients find their way.
  3. Email clients don’t always display images automatically, so never rely on an image as the only source of information or direction. For example, you might have the idea to present the “Confirm” button as a clickable image. However, this button should be created using HTML code – NOT an image – because if the image doesn’t display, patients will have no idea how to confirm their appointments. Ideally you should use an “alt-tag” (a label within the HTML template that names the image) with all email images. That way, when an email client asks patients whether to display the images, the patient has a clue about what content is included in the image.

Using an image for CTA button or using HTML for the button

Using an image file for a button, instead of using HTML
to create the button, can lead to very different results!

A Best Practice Example

So what should an appointment reminder that uses best practices look like? The following example reminder gives the patient the most critical information – his appointment details and pre-appointment instructions – upfront. The focus of the email is narrow, providing the necessary information, and asking only one major thing of the patient – to confirm his appointment. (Notice the large Confirm Appointment button. This is the primary call-to-action.) The secondary call-to-action is a request that the patient call to reschedule if he can’t make it.

appointment reminder using best practices

If you found this article helpful and you’d like to learn more about best practices for patient communication, contact us! This is what we do every day at PhoneTree, and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have.

Supplemental Sources:

Everything Marketers Should Know About Secondary CTAs
Experts Weigh In: 21 Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid
Is Too Much Choice Killing Your Conversion Rates?
Minimize Cognitive Load to Maximize Usability
Patient Communication Preferences Vital in Care Compliance
You’re Doing It Wrong: 5 Email Marketing Conversion Killers

Watch the Demo

HealthWave Connect Patient Communication

Demo HealthWave Connect

Call Us

Automated Patient Phone Reminders


Get Healthcare News

Trends In Patient Communication & Technology

Back to Top