Patients show digital preference as missed hospital appointments surge

Nearly half of patients who have missed an NHS hospital appointment say their absences were due to issues with appointment letters, according to a new study.

The independent research, commissioned by Healthcare Communications, found almost a fifth of patients (18%) admitted they had missed consultations without cancelling or rearranging it first.

Of those who had missed an appointment, a third (32%) said they forgot to attend, while nearly half (48%) stated letter-related problems, such as the letter arriving too late (17%), not being received (17%) or being lost (8%).

The survey also revealed 6% regularly leave post unopened for three days or more after it arrives. Over two thirds of patients showed a preference for digital communications, with 68% stating they would prefer to manage medical appointments online or via a smartphone. Nearly three-quarters (72%) said they would like to be alerted to the availability of last minute cancellation appointments by the NHS.

The majority (57%) have already gone paperless with other core correspondence, such as bank statements and household bills.

Surprisingly, the study of 2,000 patients found 6% thought missing an outpatient appointment would not cost the NHS anything, with over a third (37%) saying they didn’t know the value.

However, it has been estimated that almost £1bn is being wasted annually because patients fail to attend. Latest statistics from NHS digital indicated almost 8 million hospital outpatient appointments were missed in 2016/17, compared to 7.5 million during 2015/16.

Speaking about the research, Mike Cunningham, managing director of Healthcare Communications, said: “These results suggest patient-focused digital technology continues to play a growing role in helping to reduce the number of missed hospital appointments, with many patients showing a preference for a paperless approach.

“Failure to attend appointments places huge strain on NHS resources. By continuing to develop and introduce new communication tools, the patient experience is enhanced, costs are reduced and resources become easier to manage.”

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