How SMS Messaging is Cutting Patient Wait Times in the UK

How SMS Messaging is Cutting Patient Wait Times in the UK

We’ve heard a lot about the health industry’s slowness in catching on to the benefits of SMS messaging and other useful technology. In part, this hesitance is down to entrenched ideas about patient security, but it’s also about restricted budgets and old-fashioned reluctance to change.

In Great Britain, healthcare professionals are slowly coming around to the potential benefits of using SMS messaging between staff and patients. Patient waiting times is one of the hottest issues for the NHS – and one of the most easily solved through the power of text.

An automated SMS messaging system is being trialed across the UK. It gives patients the option to change, accept or receive alternative appointment dates. Did-not-attend rates (DNA) – one of the biggest causes of waiting times – dropped 20% in two hospitals after the rollout.

The NHS made the move in response to a survey that indicated 91% of patients would accept last-minute appointments if a cancellation freed up time – even with only a day or two’s notice. The pilot scheme shows some 50% of cancelled appointments could be refilled using SMS messaging.

Such clear, indisputable successes bode well for the future of SMS in the healthcare setting, which is beholden to tight budget targets. Using extant technology capable of communicating with patients smartphones is the logical answer decreasing the burden on hospital infrastructure.

There’s also an indication that the ease of communication is transformative for the patient experience. Combining SMS with online services, hospitals can engage the difficult younger demographic who make up the majority of DNAs – and most of whom own a smartphone.

Such creative use of existing technology is contributing significantly to the fight to reduce missed appointments, late cancellations, and the failures to meet 18 week deadlines on waiting times. SMS messaging won't solve everything, but it’s freeing up time and resources that can focus on fixing other problems in the NHS.

And there’s no shortage of problems for a health system under increasing threat from spending cuts. Government figures from earlier this year show 2.9 million people were waiting for treatment in the first month of 2014 – up by 362,000 from January 2013. The number of patients who were not treated within 18 weeks also rose.

If these trends are to be reversed, SMS messaging could hold the key. If the pilot is expanded into a systemic policy implemented across all NHS hospitals, the British public will find out...