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Hospitals embrace SMS technology


By Julie Clothier for CNN
Hospitals are using SMS to reduce the number of missed appointments
Do you think hospitals communicating with their patients via SMS is a good idea?
Text Messaging
Health services
Technology (general)

LONDON, England (CNN) -- It is great for organizing meetings, to tell someone a piece of information and even voting for your favorite "Big Brother" housemate.

Now, text messaging is increasingly being used by UK hospitals to remind patients about outpatient appointments -- and could potentially save the National Health Service millions of pounds every year.

It is also being used by sexual health clinics, allowing patients to get advice without having to talk face-to-face about sensitive issues including abortion, contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections.

Ealing Hospital in West London is one of the hospitals using short message service (SMS) to remind patients of routine outpatient and MRI scan appointments.

Hospital spokesperson Sarah Prestwood says the service is still extremely new but patient feedback so far has been positive.

The hospital sends 20 texts per day, reminding the patients in advance of the date and time of their appointment.

Before using the text messaging system, the hospital relied solely on sending patients a letter as a reminder.

"SMS is extremely reliable because it's instant. Posting notices is more costly and there is a chance the patient has moved addresses and will not ever get the notice," Prestwood says.

"It's still early days but anecdotal evidence suggests patients who would normally miss an appointment have subsequently turned up as a direct result of receiving a text message reminder."

She says the hospital is looking to broaden its use of the SMS patient reminder system because patients not turning up for appointments is a big problem for hospitals.

A KPMG survey recently found that 12 percent of all NHS first appointments and 14 percent of second appointments are missed. Each appointment missed costs an average of £67, which, over a year, adds up to £262 million.

Healthcare Communications UK (HCLUK) director Mike Cunningham says his company provides the SMS patient reminder system to several NHS Trusts.

"The feedback received has been extremely positive from both NHS staff and patients alike."

Dennis Armstrong, of Hampshire-based company Computer Communications, says the possibilities for uses of SMS are endless.

He knows of one hospital that uses text messages to protect its staff members.

"If they are on house calls and they don't respond to an automatically generated text message within a certain amount of time, an alarm is raised. There's so much potential for that, especially in rescue services," he says.

"Texting patients' mobiles could save the NHS millions of pounds a year. It needs to be driven from the top. The government really needs to get behind this for it to really take off."

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