NHS Trusts across the UK are now looking to adopt a remarkable reminder service that helps reduce missed patient appointments and resulting losses in hospital revenues.
Called the Managed Appointment Reminder Service (MARS), the system aims to help NHS Trusts slash an estimated £614 million out of their operating costs each year due to patient no-shows.
The MARS service was developed by Island Communications in association with the NHS and mobile messaging partner Mediaburst, and has been successfully piloted at Hull and East Yorkshire Woman and Children’s Hospital.
The hospital’s Paediatric Outpatients Unit was the first to test the system. Providing specialist and general care to children who have been referred to its consultants, around 15,000 outpatient appointments are scheduled by the unit each year. Over 20% of these are missed each year because outpatients simply forget to attend.
“Clearly, missed outpatient appointments are a prime concern to the unit for a number of reasons, the most important being the health and well-being of the child,” says Jackie Timson, the Hospital’s Paediatric Services Manager.
“First and foremost, we want to ensure that children under our medical care are receiving the attention and treatment they need to recover fully from any health problems they have experienced. A further concern is the financial impact of missed appointments as PCTs do not fund missed appointments. This represents a significant loss to the potential income to the Trust.”
Like all areas of the NHS, the Unit is constantly striving to maximise its resources so that it can improve the service it offers to the community. One of its principal aims is to reduce the length of time between a patient being referred into the service to receiving treatment, in line with the Government’s 2008 18 week referral-to-treatment target. Because missed appointments usually need to be rescheduled, the end result is delays for other patients, which makes it harder to achieve this aim.
The Paediatric Services Unit uses the MARS service to send an SMS text message to the parents of outpatients several days before their appointment to remind them to attend. Of a sample of patients who were asked whether or not they would be happy to receive this type of reminder, over 90% said they would like to, confirming that patients simply forget that they have a forthcoming appointment.
Jackie Timson believes that reminding patients of appointments via the messaging service is playing a valuable part in reducing the number of missed appointments at the unit: “During the last three months, we’ve experienced a noticeable drop in the number of patients who haven’t attended appointments,” she says.
“In some cases it’s unavoidable that an appointment will be missed, but because we provide an option to reply within the reminder we send, patients can let us know through the MARS management system if they’re not able to attend and in many cases we can allocate their slot to another patient, which is a further advantage of the system.
“The challenge going forward is to capture as many Mobile numbers as possible and integrate the MARS Messaging system with our appointments booking system,” adds Timson.