Homerton Launches Text Message Reminders

  • 3 October 2002

Homerton University Hospital, in East London, has became the first UK hospital to launch a mobile phone-based text messaging service, called ‘Meditext’, to remind patients of their appointments and prevent unnecessary cancellations.

Patients are sent a text-message reminder two days before they are due to attend an appointment at the Department of Sexual Health. The text message appointment reminder is sent out in addition to the standard reminder letter.

A simple text message prompts patients to call back on a free-phone number if they cannot come in. The advantage of text messages is that they are received by the patient almost immediately, while a letter can take a couple of days to reach them.

Dipak Duggal, general manager, A&E and diagnostic services at Homerton University Hospital, said: "Patients are booked into the clinic but up to 30% of them do not attend routinely. This results in wasted resources and lengthens the waiting time."

He told E-Health Insider that for some clinics the ‘did not attend’ rate will run all the way up to 50%. "And these are for short-termed booked appointments so it becomes a really big problem".

The idea for the service was developed by Mr Duggal, who then went out and found a major a major mobile phone company willing to provide the technology. The un-named mobile phone firm has funded the development costs of the system and the hospital just pays 8p for each text message.

The Hackney-based scheme is thought to be a first of its kind in the NHS. Figures provided by the mobile phone firm partner show Hackney has a higher than average number of mobile phone users.

Before they can take part in the trial each patient signs a consent form. In the first two weeks the department uploaded over 400 patient appointments onto the system.

"Patients seem to be quite reassured that the NHS is using technology that everyone else is already using," Mr Duggal told E-Health Insider.

All messages are sent using a secure Internet connection, and the hospital promises that the patient will not receive any junk text messages.

To help ensure confidentiality the text message the patient receives on their mobile phone is a standard text message, which does not specify the reason for the patient’s visit.

The text message, which is usually sent out two days before the appointment, typically reads: ‘Please remember you have an appointment at the Homerton in 2 days’.

The trial, which started in July, will be reviewed and will be evaluated over the next couple of months.

If the trial of the ‘Meditext’ service is found to be successful the hospital says that the service could be extended to other hospital departments such as outpatients.

Further developments of the ‘Meditext’ service that are under consideration include a possible text-back service for patients that would enable them to confirm that they will attend their appointment.

"Once we’ve got it established in our organisation they can text back and let us know whether they can make an appointment," Mr Duggal told E-Health Insider.

Mr Duggal added: "I believe this will become a routine part of hospital life in the next 12 months, as no hospital can afford to be without it, because this is a national problem."

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