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Late cancellations - the hidden opportunity

Topics: Building a solution

This weekend’s headlines have been dominated by the news that one in ten NHS hospital appointments is missed; costing the taxpayer up to £600 milllion a year and increasing waiting time for patients across the board. Conflicting timetables, changes in perceived need or simple forgetfulness all contribute to people missing millions of appointments a year.

While most trusts are aware of this and the majority are beginning to take action, another, equally sized opportunity goes unmeasured and un-tackled: late cancellations. An appointment cancelled by the hospital or patient is not recorded as a 'non attendance' but when a patient cancels at such short notice that the slot cannot be refilled the time is still lost. This is rarely measured, so awareness of the issue is low. For a typical mid-size hospital the problem is equivalent to that of non-attendance, costing on average £2-3 million a year.

Despite the often valiant efforts of booking teams, and no shortage of patients, late cancellations allow resources to go unused and cause patients to wait longer than necessary. As only non-attendance is measured, the cost to hospitals can be twice what it is thought to be.

We believe that to tackle both these problems, non-attendance and late cancellations, we must offer patients choice, convenience and opportunity. By allowing patients to choose the date and time of an appointment we could significantly cut scheduling conflicts. Providing convenient tools to cancel or reschedule with reasonable notice puts them in control. And a system which could offer last minute cancellations to people who want an earlier appointment would make use of otherwise wasted slots and reduce waiting time.

If we add clear communication and pertinent reminders, containing an obvious call to action (cancel, confirm or rebook) the result can be massive productivity gains and a transformed patient experience.

At DrDoctor we believe in using technology to solve these problems. Using our tools patients can book and manage their appointments online, late cancellations are easily and automatically filled and hospitals can conduct two-way conversations with patients using rich reminder tools.