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.