How Automated Reminders Work

By: Dave Roos
Automated reminders can alleviate to-do lists and paper calendars.
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Have you ever missed a doctor's appointment, only to find the appointment card days or weeks later? If the answer is yes, you're not alone. According to the Medical Group Management Association, 15 to 22 percent of patients in the United States don't show up for their medical appointments.

Perhaps you've sat at your desk at work, unaware that you're missing an important staff meeting. You look up and your boss is standing over you, wondering how it could have slipped your mind. Well, thanks to new technology you'll never have to miss the party again.


Automated reminders are a simple way to ease the overloaded to-do lists of people's busy lives. These scheduled electronic notifications arrive by e-mail, SMS (text message), phone or fax. They remind us to go to tomorrow's dentist appointment, catch Wednesday's red-eye flight on time, or attend mom's surprise birthday party on Saturday with a present in hand.

When patients receive an automated phone call from the doctor's office the day before, the "no-show" rate drops to a 5 percent average, reports the automated phone reminder company PhoneTree. That drop saves the doctor a lot of time and money and saves you the hassle of making (and keeping) another appointment.

Many people are already set up on some type of automated reminder tool -- the e-mail calendar. All Web calendars allow you to set up automated pop-up desktop reminders or e-mail reminders when it's time for a scheduled event. Some calendar programs like Google Calendar even include an option for sending an SMS reminder to a cell phone.

In this article, we'll introduce you to automated reminders by detailing their features, describing how they work and looking at useful applications for this technology.


Features and Set-Up of Automated Reminders

Reminders can be sent to your computer...
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Users have two options to set up automated reminders: either subscribe to an outside hosting service or buy the hardware to host the reminder service themselves.

With subscription-automated reminder services, users upload their contacts and groups using existing e-mail and calendar programs, such as Microsoft Outlook. A Web interface manages the messages, which are sent over outside servers and phone lines. Your options for the messages sent are endless: reminders, expirations, pay dates, renewals, and upgrades. The recipients themselves select how they wish to receive their messages -- e-mail, phone, SMS, or fax. However, you could even take it further. For instance, if a recipient is unavailable by phone, the system tries e-mail or text messages. Recipients then send confirmations and responses when they receive and acknowledge the message.


...or your cell phone.
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­If you choose to install the hardware yourself, many companies that sell it will work with you from set-up to support for a period of time to insure proper use of the product. Setting up automated reminder systems is simple and typically uses existing calendar management software, much like the subscription services. The difference is, once the set-up is complete, it's up to you and your office to make the calls. The system will pull all the customers that need to reminders of appointments and put those names in a queue. Staff will then pull up that queue and begin making phone calls.

The medical profession frequently uses automated reminders. Missed appointments cost money and tie up appointment times for other patients. Some doctors' offices charge a missed appointment fee, occasionally equal to the service cost.

Now let's read about some more useful applications of automated reminders.


Applications for Automated Reminders

Don't miss another
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Every industry that relies on appointments, scheduled events or significant customer interaction can benefit greatly from automated reminders. Here are some of the applications of this useful technology.

  • Health Services: Pharmacies, medical labs, vets, dentists and medical doctors all use reminders for prescription refills, test results and appointments.
  • Financial: Investment consultants, banks and accounts receivable send messages about renewals, account maturity, late payments or balance due notices.
  • Travel and Hospitality: Airlines and hotels advise customers of flights, delays, gate changes, itinerary modifications or cancellations.
  • Manufacturing and Retail: Stores inform their clients on pick-up times, warranty renewals and policy changes.
  • Service Industries: Industries use reminders about regularly scheduled maintenance, such as pest control, heating and cooling or gutter cleaning. Car maintenance shops can remind customers it's time for an oil change, while lawn car services can send a message regarding seasonal lawn care.
  • Special Events: Ticket sellers send updates about upcoming events, such as concerts, sporting events or plays. Messages can include information about parking or nearby restaurants, as well.

As people become more and more connected with Web-enabled PDAs, cell phones and seamless, high-speed Wi-Fi, the more powerful and common automated reminders will become.


However, you don't need to affiliate with customers to benefit from this technology. As stated earlier, just by using the appointment reminder on your Web calendar, you're taking advantage of this technology. Whether it's for a big meeting, happy hour with friends or simply taking time to send an e-mail, automated reminders can help you remember what you need to do.

For lots more information about automated reminders and related topics, check out the links on the next page.