A new text reminder service, introduced recently at Galway University Hospitals, aims to reduce the number of people who do not show up for hospital outpatient appointments.
The initiative comes in the wake of more than 37,442 patients - 2,800 a month - not attending their appointments or notifying the hospital in advance last year.
This results in longer waiting lists and times for out-patients at both University and Merlin Park hospitals.
Ann Cosgrove, the general manager of GUH, says it is committed to reducing the length of time that patients wait for an outpatient appointment.
“We carried out an extensive validation exercise last year and repeated the exercise earlier this year. We have verified details of how many patients are waiting for each outpatient clinic and how long they have been waiting. We are arranging appointments for those who have been waiting longest, first.
“However we have a significant problem with patients not showing up for appointments. Last year we arranged 260,801 appointments but unfortunately only 232,489 patients turned up. In total 37,442 patients (15.8 per cent ) did not go to their appointments or tell us in advance.
“When you consider that our current waiting list stands at 21,635 this means that we could have shortened our waiting list and reduced the waiting time for other patients had we been able to reallocate the appointments for the people who didn’t show up.”
Ms Cosgrove says she understand that patients may be given appointment dates or times that do not suit them.
“We would ask patients to let us know if that is the case. If patients are unable to attend and take the time to notify us in advance it means that we can reschedule their appointment and also offer the original appointment time to another patient.
“We have recently introduced a new text reminder system which allows patients to confirm whether or not they will attend their appointment with follow up texts to check if they no longer need an appointment or if they need a new appointment date. It is a very simple system that just requires the patient to text ‘Yes or ‘No’ in response.”
She outlines that the new system has been well received by patients. “We have seen a reduction in the number of people who don’t show up to their appointment. Once we know that someone is unable to make their appointment, we are able to offer the appointment to the next person waiting on the list and this is helping to reduce the waiting list also.
“Since introducing the new text reminder system for outpatient appointments, we have sent reminder texts to 15,186 patients and 12,801 patients replied which is a 84 per cent response rate. We sent appointment reminder letters to patients who didn't have mobile phones or whose text message failed to deliver. I would like to thank patients for responding to the texts as they are helping us to ensure that all appointment slots are filled.
“The new text system was initially introduced for a number of outpatient clinics (such as ENT, cardiology, paediatrics, rheumatology, urology, plastics, vascular and oncology ) and based on the success to date we will be extending it to other clinics in the coming weeks.”