The pressure on the NHS is widely reported and after an exceptionally difficult winter, the knock-on effects appear to be on-going according to this article. One particular challenge that was widely reported in early January 2018 is the estimated £1bn annual cost to the NHS of ‘no shows’ at GP and hospital appointments.
8 million missed appointments each year, with an average cost to the NHS of £120 each will clearly be putting added financial pressure on services that are already stretched. Whilst the growing use of phone and online services (such as the 111 helpline) can go towards reducing pressure on frontline services, could the NHS be doing more with its data to help cut the cost of ‘no shows’ and reallocate this saving to better use?
With outpatient appointments often being booked months in advance, there is clearly a risk of people misplacing their letter or simply forgetting an appointment. For GP appointments, the same issues can occur but it could also be the case that someone feels better so just doesn’t go along to their appointment. We’ve all done it. With busy daily lives, it’s an unfortunate fact that sometimes we forget or get our dates mixed up.
So how can the NHS target the risk of ‘no shows’ in both the GP and Outpatient scenario so people turn up to their appointment or cancel one that they no longer need?
Technology and data offer a range of options so let’s look at a couple of these:
Historic data on ‘no shows’ can be anonymised and used to understand the risk of a no-show by area. For example, are particular streets or postcodes more likely to miss an appointment? If that’s the case, can you use this insight to do more to remind patients from higher risk areas?
Not everyone will remember their appointment if it was made over the phone or via a letter some time ago. Using the right channel (post, email, SMS) in the days leading up to an appointment can be a low cost way to ensure that memories are jogged and that if an appointment is no longer needed, it’s cancelled – even by replying to the SMS or email. As long as the right consents are in place, channel preference can either be captured directly from the patient or modelled data can be used to predict the most appropriate channel.
The first step hospitals should take is ensuring they are collecting accurate customer contact details and flagging movers - as it is impossible to remind somebody of an appointment that you can’t get hold of. Data capture tools and regular cleansing are a great way of doing this. The good news is that many hospitals and GP surgeries already use data capture and enhancement tools as part of their patient management systems. These tools can be enhanced with Patient Propensity data from Experian. This is a dataset that combines key elements of our leading demographic datasets with specific ‘no show’ (also known as DNA – Did Not Attend) statistics and UK citizen channel preference to give health professionals the best possible chance of identifying the risk of, and preventing, ‘no shows’.
With a £1bn problem for the NHS, this highly specialised and low-cost solution could help the service focus on patients who genuinely need care by freeing up appointments and reducing waste.