Solving the problem of missed appointments

It’s been well documented recently that missed appointments costs the NHS almost 1 billion pounds of taxpayer’s money every year. But it’s not just the NHS that suffers from this problem – any business that relies on its customers making appointments has the same issue, whether they be hairdressers, garages, vets, estate agents, government services… you get the idea. So how can this problem be tackled?

Why do people miss appointments?

There are a host of reasons why people do not attend scheduled appointments. Sometimes they just forget, or forget to cancel, sometimes there are unexpected and unavoidable problems in their path, sometimes they just don’t want to go any more. Patients have been known to blame clerical errors (“But I never made an appointment!”), or sometimes are just too embarrassed by the trivial causes to admit and cancel them. Most of these problems can be easily solved by having an easy and robust appointment reminder system, and by making it easy for people to cancel their appointments.

What can be done?

There are a number of options available to businesses and health services to help reduce the number of missed appointments. A study from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found that asking non attendees to complete questionnaires had some effect, but it required a certain amount of motivation from the patients involved – and considering that apathy often plays a part in missed appointments, efficacy is limited. Reminder letters also proved useful in some cases, but these are often sent several days in advance, too early to have much effect – and postage costs increase yearly, making this an expensive option.

Call reminders are personal and allow for immediate feedback, but they take up a large amount of time and calls can often go unanswered. Comparatively, text message based reminders are quick, easy and inexpensive, going straight to the customer or patient’s phone, ready for them to open and read whenever they’re free. Typically, this is within five minutes of being sent.

Does text work?

NHS England reported that since implementing appointment reminder solutions, the number of outpatients missing their appointments dropped from 10.5% to 9.1%. The Portsmouth Hospital NHS Trust found that missed appointments dropped by 38% just months after implementing their SMS and IVM appointment reminder scheme – saving them £40,000 per month. And as Textlocal’s recent infographic shows, one of our customers switched to SMS appointment reminders and saved 88% on their costs.

Last week, I received a message from a garage reminding me of my appointment the next day and asking me to confirm – combining a reminder service with a quick, embarrassment-free way to cancel in case I wanted to.

Do people want to receive text reminders?

A health centre in the West Midlands asked their patients what they thought of their SMS appointment reminder service, and the response was overwhelmingly positive – only one patient that completed the survey didn’t like it. The rest found it useful, and the only disagreement was regarding when they should be sent.

So the answer seems clear – implementing an SMS appointment reminder system can not only help to reduce no-shows, but can cut your costs and help you make some serious savings. It’s not just the NHS whose problems can be solved, but any business whose schedules can be affected by a missed appointment..