An NHS Trust is to use text messages to cut the number of appointments missed by outpatients.
Around five to six per cent of outpatients fail to turn up for appointments at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital without warning. Many other trusts have the same problem.
This month the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Trust will launch a pilot scheme in paediatrics, which has the highest percentage of Did Not Attends (DNAs), which on average cost £122 each.
When patients register, the hospital will ask for their mobile phone number as well as the usual registration information.
A few days before their appointment the hospital will send a text message to the patient's phone as a reminder, along with a number to contact if they are unable to attend. Eventually, the Trust plans to give them a direct SMS reply facility.
The Trust also wants to use this system for sending other hospital alerts and, ultimately, to connect the system to its appointment booking system so that patients can either ring to reschedule an appointment or book directly online.
Bill Fisher, head of IT at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, told vnunet.com that cutting the percentage of DNAs could have real benefits.
"If we could reduce the number to, say, four per cent, then there would be some major knock-on benefits in the number of patients we actually treat and the efficiency with which we do so," he said.
"We know that a significant part of the adult population in Norfolk possesses a mobile phone, and we thought that if we text messaged them in advance of their scheduled appointments this would remind them they had an appointment, or at least to ring us to reschedule or cancel."
The trials will use technology developed by the Office of the e-Envoy. Alan Mather, chief executive of the e-Delivery team at the Office of the e-Envoy, said the technology will be ready for wider use later this year.
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