A new system that sends GP appointment reminders to patients over SMS which partially integrates into existing electronic appointment record systems is being piloted in North London.
iPlato's Patient Care Messaging (PCM) system runs over Orange's gateway services and has a server system hosted in NHSnet. It collates data from each clinical system and then sends text messages to each patient at a set interval before their appointment.
Upon receiving the text message, the patient can confirm, amend or cancel the appointment by phone or by replying by text message. Any text messages sent in reply are converted into e-mails, which are sent directly to the healthcare site. Islington Primary Care Trust and North East London Mental Health Trust are currently using the system, and success has been reported.
Arjen Soetekouw, Commercial Director of iPlato, explained that although tackling patient absenteeism is not part of NPfIT, the PCM system had a valuable contribution to make to the programme: "Appointment reminders have not been included as a requirement of the NPfIT but one of its major aims is the provision of an electronic booking service that will allow patients to book their appointments at a time convenient to them."
He continued, "With a national roll out of PCM it would easily be a valuable extension to the national IT infrastructure, as both initiatives have similar goals and require similar patient data."
"With the ongoing National Programme and the emphasis on improving healthcare services the issue of absenteeism is becoming increasingly pertinent and a problem that, if tackled appropriately, could help eliminate wasted resources."
According to last year's survey by the Institute of Healthcare Management, 12.6 million GP appointments were missed, at an estimated cost of around £250m. 80% of GPs said that they would welcome a system that reminded their patients about upcoming appointments and allowed them to cancel or change them.
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