Missing appointments

The Covid crisis may have put an additional layer of complexity on the subject of making and keeping appointments; but even before Covid came into view reducing ‘no-shows’ was a key priority for health services. As such it is a challenge which we have regularly commented on, sharing news of various initiatives which providers have adopted in order to increase attendance at clinics or one-to-one consultations.

For example, one simple initiative which has proved to be successful in reducing no-shows is the use of SMS text to send out appointment reminders. Not only does the text message act as a handy reminder, it can also prompt individuals to get in touch and cancel or rearrange the appointment if they are genuinely unable to attend. This in turn enables vacant appointment slots to be filled, helping health professionals to optimise the time available for patient treatment. E-mail reminders are also used by some practices. These can also be effective for certain client groups.

Another option used by those health practices which charge for their services is the taking of credit or debit card details at the time of making the appointment. When used in conjunction with an advertised policy of charging people who do not show up for appointments, this can also help to ensure that people either attend or cancel in good time. Taking card details in advance has the added benefit of smoothing out the payment process, helping to ensure that when individuals do attend their appointments payment can be collected on the same day.

Whilst initiatives such as these do help to reduce no-shows, it has to be acknowledged that there are other factors over which the health service has little control. Research from Unum conducted prior to the Covid situation but released recently has revealed the way in which a combination of work pressures and childcare responsibilities can impact on health appointment attendances. The research revealed that whilst 23% of those without caring responsibilities had at some stage had to cancel or weren’t able to make an appointment due to work pressures, 42% of those with additional childcare responsibilities had been unable to attend health appointments.

This research highlights how a negative worklife balance can not only potentially impact on the health of individuals and of their children but also on the health service as a whole. Particularly so when you consider that 61% of parents had to wait a day or longer in order to book an appointment; with 47% reporting that their or their child’s condition had deteriorated while waiting to see a health specialist. And with 28% of individuals having to take a full day’s leave in order to attend a health appointment, it is perhaps easy to see how a worklife balance which fails to prioritise health concerns can also negatively impact on businesses and productivity.

Commenting on the survey Unum UK Chief Executive, Peter O’Donnell, said: “It’s worrying that family health is being impacted by work pressures leading to missed medical appointments:” adding “If, going forwards, employers want to build a healthy and productive work environment where employee well-being is paramount, it’s crucial they help working parents find a way to achieve a better work-health balance.”