The National Health Service (NHS), the British government-run hospital system, has begun adopting a reminder service they say helps reduce missed patient appointments and resulting losses in hospital revenue. Called the Managed Appointment Reminder Service (MARS), the system aims to help NHS Trusts slash an estimated £614 million out of their operating costs each year due to patient no-shows.

The MARS service was developed by Island Communications in association with the NHS and mobile messaging partner Mediaburst, and has been successfully piloted at Hull and East Yorkshire Woman and Children's Hospital(1).

The hospital’s Paediatric Outpatients Unit was the first to test the system. Providing specialist and general care to children who have been referred to its consultants, around 15,000 outpatient appointments are scheduled by the unit each year. Over 20 percent of these are missed each year because outpatients simply forget to attend(2).

"Clearly, missed outpatient appointments are a prime concern to the unit for a number of reasons, the most important being the health and well-being of the child," says Jackie Timson, the Hospital’s Paediatric Services Manager.

One of its principal aims of the NHS, in line with the Government's 2008 18 week referral-to-treatment target, is to reduce the length of time between a patient being referred into the service to receiving treatment. Because missed appointments usually need to be rescheduled, the end result is delays for other patients, which makes it harder to achieve that goal.

The Paediatric Services Unit uses the MARS service to send a text message to the parents of outpatients several days before their appointment to remind them to attend. Of a sample of patients who were asked whether or not they would be happy to receive this type of reminder, over 90 per cent said they would like to, confirming that patients simply forget that they have a forthcoming appointment.

Jackie Timson believes that reminding patients of appointments via the messaging service is playing a valuable part in reducing the number of missed appointments at the unit: "During the last three months, we’ve experienced a noticeable drop in the number of patients who haven’t attended appointments," she says. "In some cases it’s unavoidable that an appointment will be missed, but because we provide an option to reply within the reminder we send, patients can let us know through the MARS management system if they’re not able to attend and in many cases we can allocate their slot to another patient, which is a further advantage of the system."


(1)Patient population at HEYS is in the region of 600,000 and 1.2 million for tertiary services

(2) Since the successful introduction of MARS, DNA (did not attend) rates have fallen with good results achieved in all participating departments.