Intended for healthcare professionals


Patients will be reminded of appointments by text messages

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 12 June 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1281
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. London

    Mobile phone text messages will be sent to patients in England to remind them of upcoming appointments with their doctor in a trial to begin next month. Organisers of the scheme hope to reduce the burden of missed appointments, which cost the NHS an estimated £400m ($660m; ‡560m) a year.

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    Rather than paying for the messages themselves, NHS trusts are hoping for sponsorship from companies that will place advertisements in the message after the reminder. The trial will involve selected hospitals and GP surgeries in Portsmouth, Coventry, Manchester, and northwest London.

    In a separate scheme Homerton Hospital in Hackney, east London, has been sending text message reminders to patients with appointments in its Department of Sexual Health since last August. Dipak Duggal, directorate general manager of diagnostics and emergency medicine at the hospital, says missed appointments are down by about 8% and that the programme will soon be extended to other departments.

    “The service is largely automated, except that we have to make a note when the appointment is booked,” he said. “After that we send the data to a computer that takes care of the messaging. The message is very simple, just ‘You have an appointment at the Homerton at such and such a time, please call this number if you can't make it.’”

    “We were a bit worried that patients might find it intrusive, so we conducted a survey first and got a positive response,” said Mr Duggal. “Our messages don't contain adverts, however. I don't think ads would go down too well in Hackney. In any case we find that the cost, at five pence a message, is more than offset by the savings in reduced missed appointments. I'm curious to see how many other hospitals are willing to have advertising.”

    The new scheme is being developed by wireless marketing company Enpocket. Jeremy Wright, cofounder of Enpocket, said that one sponsor has signed up so far: Yakult, a manufacturer of “friendly bacteria” drinks. “Several others have expressed strong interest,” he said.

    Advertisers may use up to 80 of the 160 available characters in each message. Mr Wright said that the trusts would naturally reject advertising that is inappropriate in a healthcare environment.