As elsewhere in the world, the cost of no shows in Belgium is significant, and by all accounts the problem is getting worse. More and more patients don’t bother to cancel or reschedule a consultation and this results in a cost to the healthcare organisation, both in time and money. While a part of the solution is to warn people that they will be charged if an appointment is not cancelled at least 24 hours in advance, another is sending an appointment reminder to patients via SMS. In this way they are forewarned that they have an appointment coming up and that they either need to attend, or postpone it.
Why doesn’t every healthcare provider use SMS appointment reminders?
With almost every adult in Europe owning and carrying a mobile phone, it’s still a little surprising that some healthcare organisations don’t yet use SMS reminders for consultations and visits, particularly when they calculate the full cost of non-attendance. And yet that’s what the latest WHO report seems to confirm. It says, and this is a quote, that ‘The Americas (58%) and European (53%) Regions have the highest percentage of Member States with appointment reminder initiatives.’ Now that’s all well and good, but this also means that 47% of healthcare institutions in Europe don’t use SMS reminders for healthcare visits and are therefore missing out on this proven and useful way of raising patient attendance.
SMS appointment reminders work
Numerous studies from all around the world have confirmed that SMS reminders improve appointment attendance, and that most recipients have found the reminders non intrusive and useful. Interestingly, the researchers also noted other benefits besides the inherent rapid and automated message delivery that is by definition SMS, including ease of use and relative inexpensiveness compared to calls or emails. More specifically, the science confirmed that appointment reminders were found to either increase the rate of appointment attendance, increase the rate of appointments cancelled ahead of time, or decrease the rate of missed appointments in 48 of the 56 studies conducted. This makes it highly worthwhile as by decreasing missed appointments and increasing advance cancellations, healthcare providers can save time and money, maintain uninterrupted care, and allow other patients to receive needed treatment.
But who misses medical appointments, and why? Well, scientific research has been done on that too. It tells us that five factors have been found to be more associated with non-attendance at appointments: male sex, younger age, longer interval between referral and appointment, higher Jarman score and patients of a high-referring general practitioner. The report doesn’t make any suggestions as to what can be done about this, but on the face of it, and this is purely hypothetical, at least two of these factors: male sex and younger age would surely make these ‘non attendees’ perfect candidates for SMS messages, as they are strong users of mobile phones.
Other uses of SMS messages
To date, research on the use of SMS in healthcare services has been focused on just two main areas: behaviour change interventions and reminders, but this is just the beginning. For example, SMS reminders have been shown to deliver improvements in exercise frequency, exercise consistency, and weight loss. And SMSs have been used to help adolescents and young adults decrease the amount of plaque on their teeth and improve their level of oral hygiene.
The future of healthcare is in our hands (quite literally)
If you’d like to optimize your time, and deliver happier patients (and medical staff), and see how SMS reminders to their mobile phone can be quickly and easily integrated into your current IT system, then contact our experts by phone or email. We’ll come right back to you.