Paying the Price for Missed Appointments

Nearly £1billion. According to a recent speech by the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, that’s the annual cost to the NHS of missed GP and hospital appointments. It’s the equivalent of training some 14,000 nurses, or over three and half million hospital bed days.

If you add on top of this figure the £300 million being wasted on medicines each year it’s no wonder that the Health Secretary is pushing for patients to take on more personal responsibility for the use of NHS resources. As Jeremy Hunt said in his speech “People who use our services need to know that in the end they pay the price for this waste.”

Whilst the government is currently holding back from charging people for missed appointments, in future, those who do miss appointments will be told how much that missed appointment has cost the NHS. In addition, medicines which cost more than £20 will be labelled with the true cost as a way of encouraging people to think more responsibly about the medicines which they have been prescribed and to complete the course of treatment.

But missed appointments don’t just affect the NHS. Health practitioners such as physiotherapists and chiropractors, dentists, beauticians; in fact anyone who relies on a customer appointment system can suffer if the client fails to turn up. Not only does a no-show result in lost revenue, it also deprives someone else of the chance to receive treatment.

One method which is proving increasingly popular within health practices is the use of an SMS text or telephone reminder. For those who had simply forgotten about the appointment or had made a note of an incorrect date or time, appointment reminders can be a useful way of helping to boost attendance, or at least encourage people to phone up and cancel, thereby freeing up the appointment sot for another patient.

Health practitioners who charge for their services have another simple option which not only speeds up payment but also helps to encourage attendance.  This option involves taking card details at the time of booking the appointment. Not only does this tend to concentrate people’s minds about the need to attend the appointment; in the event of a no-show, the health practice can take a fee in accordance with their published criteria.  And once the appointment has been completed a simple confirmation means payment is taken on the spot, saving paperwork and smoothing out cashflow.

Regardless of SMS text reminders or card prepayment’s, at the end of the day it is up to patients to take more responsibility for their own health. However, it is also up to the health profession to play their part, to create a partnership of understanding in which health practices and patients work together towards a shared wellness goal. And helping to ensure that treatment times are optimised is a win-win for patients, prospective patients and health practices. As Jeremy Hunt concluded: “Responsibility for our health, responsibility for our families, responsible use of public resources. A revolution in personal responsibility to match the revolution in health and care provision that we are all determined to offer.”