This week, a study published startling results after conducting research on GP appointments – revealing the extent of a longstanding issue: one in five patients regularly miss their appointments. Could SMS be the solution that the NHS is looking for?
The study looked at more than 500,000 people across the country from research teams in Lancaster, Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities, and found that those who missed appointments tend to be in the 16-30 age bracket, or over 90; and that those appointments booked two to three days in advance were most likely to be missed.
What could be the cause of the problem? Reasons ranged – the study shows that those who are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds living in wealthy areas are most likely to miss their appointments as well as those in the 16-30 year old demographic. Medical commentators have suggested that age is the main factor, stating that the younger generation view the NHS differently to their elder peers – seeing it as a ‘consumer service’.
But here at Textlocal, rather than fixate on why, we’re wired towards finding solutions to problems – especially when the Government revealed in 2015 that missed appointments were costing the NHS £162m. We believe the answer is SMS, for 3 main reasons: cost, content and collection.
A series of SMS reminders could be sent to patients in the run-up to their appointment, with text back actions to cancel or change it should their circumstances change. With the study finding that appointments made two to three days in advance far more likely to be missed than those made either two weeks in advance or on the day, text messages can be sent on the day of the appointment booking, the day before, and the morning of the appointment to ensure maximum reach and impact. With 98% of text messages being read by the end of the day, it could prove to be the most effective channel for communicating with patients.
Some GPs interviewed also advised that it was not only the cost of the time of the missed appointments themselves that were draining NHS money but the time that is then taken to follow up with certain patients for safeguarding reasons, to ensure that there was no worrying reason for a no-show. Should surgeries wish to, a further message could be sent after the missed appointment to check in with patients, with a link for them to get in touch if they’re in any trouble. Our health services could even go a step further, and use SMS to send proactive communications, such as reminders for flu jabs, to shift to a more preventative service – as we all know, prevention is better than a cure!
In the case of missed appointments, the solution must be both practical and cost-effective if it is to save money. The cost of SMS will certainly be an attractive factor – an SMS marketing campaign can be executed for as little as £1 to reach 25 key users (based on a text costing 4p), the same price as a share size packet of crisps, 4 pints of milk or a loaf of bread – and, most importantly, a fraction of the cost of a missed appointment.
Our own State of SMS research found that consumers view SMS as an information and service channel and that communications are most effective if sent from a known or trusted user – few people would expect to see a GP surgery as spam potential, so the read rates would be high.
Collation of Data
GP surgeries may well already have many 16-30 years old’s mobile phone numbers on their system, a simple opt-in to use this data for appointment reminders would be all that was needed. We would predict that most patients, particularly 16-30-year-olds, would be receptive to the idea of receiving informational, non-sales based message, given that we found 25-34-year-olds were the second most likely demographic to opt into business texts.
Embracing the influence and ease of text messages could see forgetful patients reminded of their appointments, and would give those who can no longer make theirs an easy means of cancelling and re-arranging. We hope that we’ll soon see the NHS harnessing the power of SMS.