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Reminder system reduces patients' missed appointments

By Christian Duffin

Introducing a ‘sequential' reminder system of a phone call followed by a text message then a letter can significantly reduce the number of missed appointments and help practices save money, a randomised controlled trial has shown.

The study, published in BMC Family Practice, found practices using a system of sequential reminders was an ‘effective and economically efficient' method of improving patient attendance, and that it was ‘generally well accepted by patients who found it useful'.

Researchers in Switzerland randomised 2,123 patients in an urban primary care clinic to one of two interventions.

Starting 48 hours before their appointment, patients received a reminder by phone, followed by a text if the patients had not been reached after three attempts, then patients were posted a letter if they were still uncontactable. The letter arrived the day before the appointment.

Patients in the control group did not receive any reminder about their upcoming appointment.

In the control group, 11.4% of patients missed appointments, compared with 7.8% in the intervention group. The system also resulted in a net benefit of about £1,600 per practice over three months.

Lead researcher Dr Noëlle Junod, clinical consultant in primary care at Geneva University Hospitals, said: ‘A strategy of sequential interventions successively using phone calls, text messages and postal reminders, proved to be effective and economically efficient.

‘A practical reminder system can significantly increase patient attendance at clinics. An intervention focussed on specific patient characteristics could further increase the effectiveness of appointment reminders.'

BMC Family Practice 2010, 11:79

A telephone reminder system reduced missed appointments

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