Text messages to save health board £1 million

A South Wales health board estimates that £1 million could be saved in just one year by sending appointment reminders to patients via SMS.

The Aneurin Bevan Health Board has launched an initiative to message patients with appointment reminders in the hope of driving down costly DNAs (did not attends). As part of the new service, patients will be sent text messages confirming their appointment time and date, as well as ways to reschedule or cancel their booking, should it no longer be needed.

Recipients of the text messages are able to amend their appointment by simply replying to the text with the word ‘CHANGE’. Alternatively, a phone number and web URL are provided for those with queries or who want more information.

The messages also come with information on the cost of missed appointments, in the hope this spurs recipients into action. At the bottom of each text is: “Please try to attend – if you don’t turn up it costs the Health board up to £137.”

Messages are sent to patients seven days before their appointment, then another reminder is sent two days before. Anyone who doesn’t want to receive these messages is able to opt out, should they wish.

The Aneurin Bevan Health Board has already seen positive results emerge in just a few months. Since the scheme was launched in October 2015, the number of recorded missed appointments dropped by 2.38%. If these figures continue for the remainder of the year it will result in a drop of 7,304 missed appointments – worth roughly £1 million.

Not only would this save the health board some much-needed cash, wait times would also decrease. With the board able to fill newly vacated slots, those waiting for appointments could be seen quicker.

One patient told walesonline.co.uk: “I have been on the waiting list a long time for the treatment I am receiving and find it [text reminders] very beneficial. Knowing the cost of the treatment makes me more determined to keep my appointment.”

Another added: “This service is brilliant as I could change my appointment outside usual working hours. I could even change my appointment while on holiday abroad simply by receiving and sending a text.”

Consultant physician and endocrinologist at the Aneurin Bevan Health Board, Dr Fiona Smeeton, added that all departments had seen a benefit. She claimed that “not one clinic” had gone by without half of the patients remarking on how useful the reminder service had been.

In fact, it’s been such a success that similar schemes are expected to be rolled out elsewhere in the health board. Chief executive Judith Paget said: “I look forward to seeing further improvements and efficiencies once the text reminder service is rolled out to more specialities in our health board.”