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Should You Have a Cancellation Policy for a Nutrition Practice?

One of the biggest challenges to nutrition providers in private practice, is the unpredictability of your schedule. Last-minute client cancellations can be frustrating, time-consuming, and costly. This challenge can be particularly hard-felt for insurance-based practices, where clients do not pay out-of-pocket for services. There may be little understanding of the inconvenience and hardship it causes then an appointment is cancelled or rescheduled at the last minute. Establishing a clear nutrition cancellation policy for your nutrition practice can be an effective way to set expectations upfront, and still be paid for sessions cancelled without sufficient notice. 

Why Nutrition Providers Should Have a Cancellation Policy

There are several reasons why it makes sense for most nutrition and wellness professionals in private practice to establish a cancellation policy.

Let’s face it, having clients cancel or reschedule appointments at the last second wastes your valuable time, means missed income, and is one of the leading reasons why practices build slower than expected.

Having a nutrition cancellation policy can protect your practice from these obstacles.

At the very least, having a cancellation policy can prevent, or at least reduce the impact of, last minute changes in client schedules, and ensure you’re compensated for the time you’ve set aside.

We believe, and have seen from our own experiences, that while having a policy won’t eliminate last minute cancellations, it can significantly reduce the number of cancellations and the impact these cancellations have on your wallet.

Here are some things to think about when creating a policy:

  • What is your window of cancellation? Within 24 hours? Within 48 hours?
  • What fee are you charging? The cost of the entire appointment? A standard fee of $25 or $50?
  • Will you allow clients to reschedule? If so, will they be able to commit?
  • Will you offer “first offender forgiveness?” Do clients get to miss one appointment before they are charged? (With or without their prior knowledge of this policy!)

Consider this when setting your office’s nutrition cancellation policy:

State your cancellation policy clearly and simply

Keep your statement concise, easy to understand, and inclusive of all information a client needs to be accountable.

For example: Our office has a cancellation policy such that clients must give notice more than 24 hours in advance of their appointment. If cancelling within 24 hours but before the appointment window, you will be charged a fee of $30. No-shows will be charged the full out-of-pocket fee for their appointment.

State your cancellation policy visibly

Post it in your office, include it as part of initial paperwork, or state it on your website when clients book with you. When sending out appointment reminders, clearly state the cancellation policy within the text so that clients won’t feel like It was a “hidden” policy. It’s hard to enforce a policy retroactively, so make sure clients know what they’re signing up for when booking with you. 

Pro tip: In Healthie, you can customize our standard cancellation policy to your client’s intake flow and obtain an e-signature. This way clients are aware of your cancellation policy before they even have their initial nutrition consultation. 

Establish a Protocol For Payment

Are you going to keep a credit card on file? Are you comfortable sending an invoice for cancellations after the fact? Whatever you decide, make sure to have a plan in place. Even for insurance-based clients, you can require that they put a credit card on file to hold appointments, pay for copays and to charge in the event that insurance denies services. Your time and services are valuable, and creating office policies that reflect this are essential. The truth is, everyone is busy, and last minute schedule changes happen. If there are no financial penalties or obligations to cancelling an appointments, clients will very likely take advantage of this and reschedule often. Creating your cancellation policy and having a way to enforce it by keeping a credit card on file, ensures that clients respect your time.

Pro tip: This is one reason we recommend having a credit card on file for all clients, even if you accept insurance. In Healthie, you can safely keep your client’s credit card stored and charge them for a late cancellation, per your policy.

Don’t Be Afraid To Actually Enforce It

We understand that there will be one-off occasions where you’ll waive your nutrition cancellation policy. In extenuating circumstances, or for a first-time offender it may be best to make an exception. However, be sure to enforce the policy you set in place. If you don’t implement it once, you create a cadence where it’s okay for clients to skip and miss appointments. 

Many nutrition professionals in private practice will charge the credit card on file after a missed appointment, and then send a receipt or message to their client notifying them of the late cancellation charge. If this is a practice you’d like to adopt in your nutrition private practice, then be sure to follow these best practices:

  • Make sure your client has signed/acknowledged your nutrition cancellation policy and that you have it stored in their client chart 
  • Your policy is clearly stated in your office and clients were reminded of your cancellation policy prior to their appointment
  • Appointment reminders were sent to your client prior to your cancellation period (ie. before the 24 hour window) to give them an opportunity to reschedule if they need.

If creating and enforcing a nutrition cancellation policy for your private practice feels uncomfortable to you, keep this in mind: most healthcare professionals do have cancellation policies established and require credit cards on file. For the majority of your clients, it’s an understood and expected practice. Not having an established policy leaves the door open to misunderstandings, tension and uncomfortable conversations with clients. By setting a clear cancellation policy, you can make your schedule and career as a nutrition practitioner in private practice a little more predictable.

Online billing and practice management platforms like Healthie can make it easier to establish cancellation policies, and collect payments as they are required.

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