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Effectiveness of mobile-phone short message service (SMS) reminders for ophthalmology outpatient appointments: Observational study

DOI: 10.1186/1471-2415-8-9

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Abstract:

An SMS text message was sent to patients with scheduled appointments between April and September 2006 in a hospital ophthalmology department in London, reminding them of their appointments. This group acted as the intervention group. Controls were patients with scheduled ophthalmology appointments who did not receive an SMS or any alternative reminder.During the period of the study, 11.2% (50/447) of patients who received an SMS appointment reminder were non-attenders, compared to 18.1% (1720/9512) who did not receive an SMS reminder. Non-attendance rates were 38% lower in patients who received an SMS reminder than in patients who did not receive a reminder (RR of non-attendance = 0.62; 95% CI = 0.48 – 0.80).The use of SMS reminders for ophthalmology outpatient appointments was associated with a reduction of 38% in the likelihood of patients not attending their appointments, compared to no appointment reminder. The use of SMS reminders may also be more cost-effective than traditional appointment reminders and require less labour. These findings should be confirmed with a more rigorous study design before a wider roll-out.Non-attendance for hospital outpatient appointments is a major burden on healthcare systems and costs the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK an estimated £790 million per year [1]. It reduces the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of outpatient healthcare and causes substantial financial losses for healthcare systems [2]. It also results in suboptimal use of clinical and administrative staff and results in increased waiting times for other patients [3]. The increased waiting time can result in delay in presentation of patients' symptoms and also decreased monitoring of long-term chronic conditions; which can, in turn, lead to increased patient morbidity [4]. Additionally, there are worse outcomes for non-attenders and a loss of continuity of care [5].Some of the main reasons for patients not attending their outpatient appointments are

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