If you’ve been to the doctor in the last few years, you’ve probably gotten one a phone call reminding you from your doctor’s office reminding you of your upcoming appointment. These calls usually come from 1 to 3 days prior to your scheduled appointment. Sometimes a member of the front office staff speaks to you in person. Other times you get an automated “robo-call.” And, while I’ve never experienced it, many providers are now contacting patients with reminders sent to their cellphones as text messages.
I’ve always found these reminders annoying, because I generally keep my appointments, but for the physicians, anything that helps to avoid missed appointments is a way to improve efficiency. After all, a physician’s day littered with missed appointments isn’t much different than a plane flying with empty seats. The phone call reminders are known to produce results, but if text messages are equally effective, they would be preferable, because they’re generally cheaper to send out than paying someone to make calls. But the big question is: Do these text message reminders work?
The answer, according to a meta-analysis appearing in the latest issue of Health Services Research, is a resounding yes. The study looked only at text message reminders, and synthesizing results from 18 separate studies, they found that text message reminders increased the likelihood of appointment attendance by nearly 50%. That’s a big effect. The only thing that’s concerning is who won’t be reached if providers migrate to text message reminders over telephone calls. Cellphone use is widespread, but there are pockets of people–the elderly, those in areas without cell coverage, etc.–that would stand to forget their appointments more often, because they don’t have a cellphone. Of course, if things get really bad, it will be the folks without cellphones who come out ahead.