Background: Failure to attend appointments compromises health service efficiency. Despite considerable interest in using novel technologies to improve attendance, evidence from rigorously conducted controlled studies is lacking.
Aim: To evaluate the effectiveness of texting appointment reminders to patients who persistently fail to attend appointments.
Design: Randomised controlled study.
Setting: Inner city general practice in Lothian, Scotland.
Method: We included 415 appointments made by patients (n = 173) who had failed to attend two or more routine appointments in the preceding year. Patients whose appointments were randomised to the intervention group received a text message reminder of the appointment. Patients whose appointments were in the control group received no reminder. Our primary outcome measure was non-attendance rates. We undertook an intention-to-treat analysis and multi-level analysis to take account of the lack of independence of the outcomes of repeated appointments for the same patient.
Results: Of the 418 appointments originally included in the study, three were excluded due to clerical error; 189 were randomised to the intervention group and 226 to the control group. Twenty-two appointments (12%) were not attended in the intervention group compared with 39 (17%) in the control group. A chi-square analysis, considering the outcome of appointments as independent from one another, gave a non-significant difference of 5% (95% CI of difference −1.1 to 12.3%, p = 0.13). Multilevel analysis applied to the binary outcome data on non-attendance gave an odds ratio for non-attendance in the intervention group compared with the control group of 0.63 (95% CI 0.36 to 1.1, p = 0.11).
Conclusion: Although the intervention showed promise, we failed to demonstrate significant reduction in non-attendance rates, as a result of texting appointment reminders to patients who persistently fail to attend their general practice appointments.
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Funding: Lothian and Borders Primary Care Research Network.
Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: Lothian Local Research Ethics Committee granted approval for the study. The committee agreed that informed consent from patients to include their appointments in the study was not necessary. REC reference number 04/S1101/7.