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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Hospitals creating app to curb no-show rate

Changing, cancelling SGH and CGH appointments will soon be even easier
The Straits Times - February 22, 2012
By: Poon Chian Hui
| More
Hospitals creating app to curb no-show rate -- ST PHOTO: TED CHEN

PATIENTS will soon be able to download a mobile application (app) that allows them to change their appointments at specialist hospital clinics.

The app is the latest in a line of measures designed to get more people to turn up for their appointments. About one in four patients fails to show up for appointments, even after being reminded by phone calls and SMS messages.

The app will allow users to log onto a portal using their SingPass and view, change or cancel appointments.

Initiated by the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and developed with SingHealth's IT team, the app is free and is targeted to be ready by June, said Mr Yeo Han Seng, the hospital's assistant director of specialist outpatient clinics.

Another version for people who prefer not to use their SingPass is also being developed, and will be ready some time after the first version is launched.

All of SGH's specialist clinic patients will be asked to download the app if they can. From next month, SGH will discuss with other SingHealth institutions how they can also make use of the app.

Changi General Hospital (CGH) has already started working with its own IT team to roll out the app for patients. In 2010, the hospital started hiring people to make 4,000 phone calls every month to remind patients of their appointments. This is in addition to its SMS reminders, which started in 2005.

Despite a slight dip, the no-show rate has remained high, said its assistant director of operations, Dr Daniel Lee.

A survey last September found that 36 per cent of the absentees forgot their appointments, while another 27 per cent said they felt better and decided not to turn up.

'We are thinking hard about what to do with this group of patients,' said Dr Lee. 'We have gone all out to make it easy for them - for example, they can simply send an SMS in reply to our reminder.'

He added that the last resort would be to levy an administrative fee on those who said they would come but failed to show.

This is because such absenteeism puts a strain on the clinics, which handle more and more patients every year. Last year, public hospitals here registered 4.23 million attendances at their outpatient clinics, up from 3.83 million in 2008.

Mr Yeo explained that clinics are now being overbooked in anticipation that some patients will fail to turn up. But this can create more problems.

'If everybody decides to turn up on that day, our clinics are going to be chock-a- block,' he said. 'Waiting times will be very long, the clinic will be overcrowded, people will get frustrated. In fact, this happens quite frequently already.'

By notifying the hospital when they cannot turn up, patients can help free up slots for other patients, especially those who need urgent care.

It will also make things easier for staff. Every time a patient has an appointment to see a doctor, the clinic must trace his case notes and deliver them to the doctor, who must review them beforehand.

Still, patients should avoid skipping their appointments for their own sake.

'The appointment is made for a reason. If they don't turn up because they think they are feeling well, they miss the opportunity for a consultation that is necessary,' said Dr Lee.

He pointed out that for many chronic diseases like high blood pressure, patients may not suffer any serious symptoms.

Yet, many still require constant monitoring and may have to go for regular blood tests, for example.

'Complications may manifest only many years down the road,' said Dr Lee.

Patients may also run out of medication, and this could have adverse effects on their health.

With the new app, patients will have a number of options to cancel or change appointment dates, such as by e-mail, SMS and phone calls. They can also log onto an online appointment system to do so.

Said Mr Yeo: 'We have put in place all these measures for patients. It's just a matter of whether they want to use them.'

Mr Francis Sim, 64, said he receives an SMS message a few days before his elderly mother-in-law is due for an appointment at CGH, which he finds useful.

However, he said, many people probably do not know that they can send a message or call back to change their plans.

Many may also be unaware that their actions can affect others, said Mr Yeo.

Mr Adrose Daud, for one, said he is unlikely to do anything if he is too busy to keep an appointment. His wife sees a specialist at CGH, as she had a toe amputated due to diabetes.

'I think, just forget it,' said the 66-year-old. 'If I think it's important for my health, I will ask the clinic afterwards for a new date and timing to see the doctor.'

But Mr Yeo said: 'There is a lack of awareness of the fact that if they don't call, the slot is wasted. There is also an impact on other patients who are trying to get a slot.'




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