The NHS has revealed that it has lost millions of pounds because of the number of patients failing to turn up for appointments. Out of 94.1 million hospital outpatient appointments in 2012/13, 6.9 million appointments were not attended, costing the NHS £745m. It is also estimated that more than 12 million doctors’ appointments are missed each year.
Integrating SMS for Reminders
Many health centres and surgeries are turning to SMS text messaging to try to resolve this scenario. Integrating an SMS service into an existing system, a surgery can send a text reminder to a patient giving them the option to reply with the word ‘cancel’ if they can no longer attend the appointment. If the patient sends a ‘cancel text’, the software can automatically cancel the appointment and make it available for rebooking on screen for the receptionists. One NHS centre in Nottingham that has recently adopted this system said “In three weeks we have saved 210 appointments.”
SMS messaging is an extremely useful and reliable form of communication to deliver alerts, notifications and reminders to patients, staff and suppliers. Mobile phone users (90% of UK adults own a mobile phone) have constant access to their devices and SMS messages can be received and read instantly – usually within four minutes. With a two-way channel in place, it also provides the opportunity for recipients to reply, as demonstrated above.
An SMS service could also be used for a variety of other external communications ranging from informing patients about the availability of test results and sending them reminders about overdue bills to marketing campaigns and delivering health warnings or information. In this instance, bulk SMS is the cheapest and most effective form of communication.
StyleTech Solutions, a bespoke software development specialist, has integrated SMS into a number of its products, developed especially for customer healthcare projects.
“It’s mainly used for notifications, but we have used SMS as a marketing tool in some bespoke solutions, for example as a sign posting tool for health improvement services,” explained Sarah McKenzie, Project Manager, StyleTech Solutions. “We have also developed an SMS support programme that delivers long term support for clients travelling through their journey of quitting smoking. The system also integrates with local pharmacy systems to support the delivery of client vouchers via SMS for smoking cessation products.”