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Self isolating, furloughed, working… whatever the personal situation it would be a fair bet that the last few months has given most of us pause for thought. Whether we’ve relied on the kindness of strangers, applauded our healthcare workers, or simply missed the day-to-day interactions with friends and family; the fact of COVID-19 has inexorably changed our daily lives.

Now as we see the gradual relaxation of lockdown we can start to look forward; perhaps not completely returning to the life we previously knew, but at least to a new normal in which we can safely open up access to a range of services which have been restricted over recent times. It’s not going to be an instant transformation. And with the eyes of the health service having focused on treating coronavirus patients, the list of others in need of new or ongoing treatment has naturally risen; not to mention the ongoing rehabilitation which some of those affected with the virus may require.

With that in mind, appointments across all health services will be at a premium. As a consequence, every missed appointment will be a missed opportunity not only to reduce the backlog but also to provide vital help to someone who may have been waiting for some time.

The challenge of reducing missed appointments is not a new one. In January 2019 NHS England estimated that people had failed to attend more than 15 million GP surgery appointments over the course of a year, equating to 5% of the total number of sessions which are available. At an average cost of £30 that represents a significant drain on resources, not to mention the cost of delayed treatments.

As we move into the next phase of recovery, health practices may therefore wish to deploy every avenue available to them in order to reduce appointment no-shows. These include sending e-mail or SMS text reminders. We are all human, we all make mistakes from time to time either by forgetting to note appointments in our diaries or recording them under the wrong day. Receiving an appointment reminder either by email or SMS text not only jogs the memory, it also acts as a written record. Equally importantly, receiving a reminder can help to prompt people to check their diaries and cancel or rearrange in good time.

Similarly, maintaining an online booking service could help people to quickly confirm the date and time of their appointment as well as having the means to swiftly and easily make or rearrange appointments as required. Those health practices which charge for their services could also consider asking clients to confirm their booking with credit or debit card preauthorisation. It has been shown that this can help to reduce the number of no-shows, particularly if the practice advertises a cancellation charge which is to be taken in the event of the appointment being missed.

It will take some time for the UK’s health services to settle down to something approaching a new normal. In the intervening period anything which can be done to optimise appointment take-up will help to ensure that as many people as possible are receiving the vital treatment which they need.