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Missed appointments cut by reminders

24th October 2011

Hospitals may be able to reduce their burden of missed appointments if they use SMS text messaging or phone calls as reminders, according to a recent Norwegian study.

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In a review of 29 different Northern European studies, the researchers found that it was possible to reduce no-shows by up to 34%, especially if the staff were able to call in person.

Lead researchers Per Hasvold and Richard Wootton, of the University of North Norway, said researchers currently lacked formal evidence of the cost-effectiveness of such reminders, however.

Although they were able to calculate the cost of the reminders to be 41 Euro cents on average (about 36p), most of the studies they reviewed did not include any measurements of cost savings.

They wrote that all hospitals should consider using automated reminder systems that used either text messages or telephone calls.

Automated reminders seemed to reduce non-attendance by patients by nearly 30%, whereas reminder calls from human beings reduced it by just under 40%.

The researchers wrote that non-attendance in hospitals was usually approached either by overbooking the hospital's appointment list, which may not be an appropriate strategy, or by sending reminders.

One strategy assumes that people will fail to show up, aiming to reduce the burden on a hospital's efficiency by overbooking the schedule.

The researchers said that if patients either cancelled or rescheduled their appointments, administrative staff could often fill empty appointment slots with other patients, which reduced the burden on hospital efficiency.

For the study, the researchers first made use of the PubMed database of healthcare studies, which allows interactive text searching of healthcare studies.

The original search returned 321 results, many of which were duplicates.

Refining the number of possible studies yielded 99 results, of which 37 seemed to fit well with the topic the researchers wanted to study.

The researchers then picked the 29 most complete studies.

Unfortunately, none of the studies measured the cost savings of sending reminders to reduce no-shows.

Hasvold and Wootton wrote that further, more rigorous studies, should be carried out, using randomised controls.

Such studies may give hospitals a better estimate of how much money they can save by sending out reminders.

 

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