Automated call/ recall: two-way SMS as part of your screening programme strategy

There's no doubt that in primary care patient recall systems need optimising. They're often very manual, take a lot of effort for practice managers to organise, and are inefficient at creating engaged patients that attend appointments.

What does this mean for NHS GP practices? Well, typically it means lots of staff time is spent trying to reach patients only to fail to get the high appointment booking rates required to meet QOF or local enhanced service targets.

At Appt, we are applying the latest technology to optimise the entire patient recall process. We want to make sure that patient's take up more appointments that prevent ill-health (like NHS Health Checks, Asthma Reviews, Latent TB, etc), and that practice staff can spend less time on inviting and booking patients and more time delivering great health care.

What is a two-way text messaging system?

Two-way SMS could mean a multitude of things. At a basic level, it means that your SMS invitation system allows the patient to respond and that response is recorded somewhere.

However, real functionality differs quite significantly. There are currently two types of two-way text messaging systems:

1. Those that lead to an automated action when a response is received. For example, if a patient responds to appointment reminders with 'cancel' a system automatically updates your appointment book. So far, this is about as advanced any patient recall system has got.

2. Those that record a patient's response into something like an Excel document and require a person to look at those responses and take action manually. For example, you could send an SMS to a patient inviting them to an NHS Health Check and they can respond 'yes' if they want to be called to organise an appointment time. When the patient responds it would require a member of staff to sift through all responses, identify those who said 'yes' and call them to book an appointment.

And the reality is that these two are rarely used on a regular schedule to work through a recall list. From our work with practice managers, we've heard feedback that recall campaigns that use existing two-way messaging just take too long to set up and don't book enough patients to be worthwhile.

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The future of two-way text messaging in GP practices

At Appt Health, we have re-envisioned the entire patient recall process. Part of the new process is an innovative two-way SMS system. Our system almost entirely automates patient recall: from invites through to calendar management.

What are the core features of our new two-way text messaging workflow?

  1. The software works by automatically sending eligible patients an optimised recall message. The list of patients each receives an SMS with three available appointment slots (The patient receives an SMS that says 'Please choose a time from the following options: A, B or C'). And it does so without a member of staff having to select dates and times.        
  2. It automatically reads patients responses and manages the practice calendar. Meaning it can book a patient into an appointment and populate the clinician's calendar without the need for your staff to spend any time on it.                                                          
  3. It can allow patients to request other appointment times if none sent suit them. So, if a patient says 'I need Tuesday evenings' the system can check to see if there is any available and, if there is, send the options to the patient.            
  4. It fits into our complete recall process runs that in the background over every month of the year, booking the desired quantity of patients without any need for a scheduled recall.                                     
  5. We continuously test and optimise the messaging. You don't need to select messaging templates and you can be reassured that your patients are receiving the most convincing invite they can (and it's constantly improving as we test new ideas.)
Image of Appt's two-way SMS system for patient recall in action

5 benefits of a new two-way SMS patient recall system

1.      It significantly reduces the time spent doing patient recall

With our software, practice staff (whether its a receptionist, HCA, nurse, practice manager or whoever) will have significantly less workload. Why?

  • Because fewer patients need to call your practice telephone to book an appointment, so you can expect fewer telephone calls.
  • Because a large percentage of patients will be invited and booked in an automated way, manual recall (sending letters and making phone calls) will mostly disappear. Your team can send fewer invites and focus on other duties in the service of patients.

2.      It makes appointments more accessible for patients

We hear from patients that it is often very difficult to get through to their GP practice because the telephone lines are so busy. No doubt that this is preventing them from booking into appointments that help you to hit QOF targets and earn revenue from enhanced services.

Allowing patients to respond via SMS means this important barrier to their booking is removed. It could now not be easier to book into an NHS Health Check, for example. On top of a high uptake rate, this feature acts like a 'customer service' tool and is likely to have the secondary benefit of increased patient satisfaction.

3.      It creates a better patient experience thanks to the flexibility of appointment booking

Our third key feature allows patients to ask for more dates and times if the ones they originally received in a text message were unsuitable. If they respond 'MORE' then our service automatically taps into your clinic appointment book to offer them a range of other times.

A fully functional two-way SMS system like ours also enables the patient to respond with guidance like 'Tuesday mornings, please' creating true flexibility. Replies are fully automated because we're training the system to understand all the common responses.

This flexibility not only enables a great experience for your patients, but it means more people find a suitable time and they are more likely to book an appointment.

4.     It reduces your practice's expenses

Thanks to the high uptake rate achieved by our two-way SMS system, fewer patients will need to be sent a more costly letter. Letters cost upwards of £0.70 whereas one SMS costs £0.02. Even a series of 10 SMS's designed to increase uptake costs £0.20, £0.50 less per patient than letters.

5.     Increased uptake of appointments that earn you money

More accessible appointments, an easy way for patients to book, and a low effort solution for practice managers and staff, means that more patients will book an appointment than ever before. Appt's patient engagement platform also sends reminders reducing the number of missed appointments.

With a two-way SMS system like this, you can expect to hit practice targets while at the same time reducing practice workload.

The benefits of incorporating automated two-way text messaging into your QOF and Enhanced Service booking invite process are clear: countless hours saved and more revenue earned from a high uptake of services.

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Appt Health is re-imagining patient recall entirely. We call our new software a 'patient engagement platform' because it does more than invite patients, it is a practice management software that gets them engaged in their own healthcare. For GP practices, this means lower staff time and higher patient uptake of QOF targets, Local and National Enhanced Services, better patient care, and more revenue earned. Get in contact with us for a chat about how you can implement our new system.

Click here to learn how Appt Health can help you

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Article by

Ben Goodey