SMS appointment reminders save Welsh NHS Trust £1.5 million

A North Wales NHS Trust has revealed how text messages helped it make £1.5 million in cost savings.

The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) covers much of North Wales, including hospitals across Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd and Wrexham. In a bid to drive down missed appointments, it sent out some 500,000 messages to patients across the region, informing them of what they need to do in order to make, re-book or cancel their appointment.

The scheme started in 2014 and now, two years on, BCUHB has claimed the texts had saved between £1.2 and £1.5 million.

A survey conducted in 2013 found that more than 70,000 patients in North Wales had missed appointments over the previous 12 months. Each of these cost the trust between £120 and £150, whilst also contributing to growing waiting lists.

During the trial, more than 10,000 text message recipients re-booked or cancelled their appointments, thereby freeing up the time for others to take the slots. Reminder messages were sent out one week before the appointment date and to make feedback easy, all people had to do was text one word back in response to either cancel their appointment or arrange a different date.

In addition to the text messages, patients were phoned on the day before their appointment, with voice messages left if the caller couldn’t get through. In the instance of mobile numbers not being held on record, a pre-recorded bi-lingual message was sent to the landline providing all the relevant information but not including sensitive details such as appointment location or speciality.

Commenting on the scheme’s success, BCUHB interim general manager for scheduled care, Rachel Whitehall, told “It’s important people attend their appointments. Patients always receive a letter with the date of their appointment – however, we do recognise that often the date can be for some time ahead and it’s easy to forget or lose the letter, plus individual circumstances may change. That’s why we brought in this process to remind people – usually around a week before their appointment – to come along.

“Occasionally people may need to rearrange their appointment, or it may be that they feel they no longer need any treatment and so want to cancel. As the majority of our patients or their carers have access to a mobile phone, this is an excellent way of using available technology to the advantage of all our patients.”

BCUHB’s success could prompt other NHS Trusts across the UK to follow suit and try text messages themselves as a way to drive down appointment no-shows. As our infographic shows, missed appointments cost the NHS more than £162 million every year – which is enough to buy a new critical treatment hospital, or pay for 655,870 ambulance call outs.

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