A third of us admit we’re addicted to our phones – it’s probably a lot more than that. We use them for everything. From checking travel updates to paying for coffee. They also play a vital role in helping us stay on top of busy schedules. Like keeping us posted on pending deliveries or reminding us to pay that bill. But what about other important things like vital appointments with our GP? Check out below a recap of our chat with the folks at BT.

You might not think missing a doctor’s appointment costs any money. But it does. Missed appointments cost the NHS £216 million every year. That’s more than 15 million consultations wasted because patients don’t show up.

So, BT have been working with the NHS to send out SMS comms for the past few years. One of the biggest examples is reminding patients of their upcoming appointments. The NHS sends out more than 50 million of these reminders a month. And it’s cut the number of patients who did not attend (DNAs.) That means doctors can allocate those appointments to other patients who are waiting.

Despite the rise of messaging apps, the humble SMS is still the number one form of mobile communication. There’s no need to worry about smartphones or apps. It’s so powerful. It works on every handset ever made. Here’s some stats for you:
— 54 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men check their phone for messages within 15 minutes of waking up;
— 18 per cent of people open marketing emails, but they have a click-through-rate of just two per cent.

So, what if we took SMS communications a step further? Appointment reminders are just the tip of the iceberg. BT held a workshop with the North West London Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to talk about how to effectively use SMS comms across their eight CCGs and the 370 practices that sit within the group. Check out their top 5 conclusions below:

1. Make sure data is clean
With General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), it’s more important than ever to make sure patient data is correct and looked after. 

Using SMS communications to clean the data means messages to non-existent numbers are scrapped. When the NHS send out a text, they’ll get a delivery receipt. If it’s a failed message, it means the number doesn’t exist anymore. And it can be taken off the data base. The savings from that can be put towards an effective way to use the service.

2. Make the messages matter
We all appreciate it when things are personalised. Targeting patients better by using the data we have is a great way to grab their attention, but also send out useful information.

We know that sending appointment reminders can cut DNAs. But we can do more. Using data on demographics to create targeted campaigns through the year, we can reach people with specific needs.

Sending SMS reminders for flu vaccinations, child immunisations, info on diabetes, weight management and smoking are practical and simple ways to benefit our patients. Plus, it’s another way to save money on missed appointments. It helps GP’s hit their targets and uses the system better too.

3. Create a two-way conversation
From our bus journeys to our bedrooms, our faces are buried in our phones. Which explains why 75 per cent of us use them to fill out surveys. It’s a huge advantage for GP surgeries. They can use this to draw more attention to friends and family surveys. Plus, going electronic helps the environment and saves the admin staff hours of sifting through piles of paper. It’s a big opportunity to get feedback about practices.

And there’s scope to use the system as a two-way channel too. We know there’s a problem with DNAs. That can be cut even more by giving patients the ability to cancel appointments through a text message. That frees up the appointment for someone else. And the budget saved on missed appointments can be used elsewhere. The £216 million lost from missed appointments is enough for 58,000 hip operations or 220,000 cataract operations.

4. Use SMS as a “digital doctor”
If you’re able to make it to the surgery, there are other ways the doctors can use SMS. GPs can treat their patients the same way and give them the opportunity to continue their treatment when they leave the surgery using a recommended app. Doctors can text a link for an app to their patients straight away. It could be an app to help them quit smoking, a sleep monitoring app – and these can be tailored to the patient’s needs. And it’s better for patients than being stuck on Candy Crush.

5. Use internal SMS services with staff
We can transform the way the NHS interacts with patients - and how staff interact with each other. And we can cut the costs along the way so funding is better spent on valuable treatment and equipment.

NHS staff can tap in to services like “Rapid Alert.” It’s a way for doctors to talk to each other internally if there’s a serious emergency. There are messaging templates and pre-identified recipient groups so the alerts are sent out quickly and efficiently. And most importantly, the right people can respond quickly.

And it can make rota problems a thing of the past. “Staff Match” can take care of rotas so the right staff are in the right place at the right time. If community nurses are out visiting patients, we’ve got a text system they can use while they’re on site.

“Staff Safe” is another way to use internal SMS. It uses automated check-ins and real-time status updates to verify staff safety. There’s also a feature that sends out automated messages when there’s no response from staff. The message explains there’s been no response and warns that the staff member might not be safe. So, the right people can take action and get in contact with them.

The work the NHS does has a huge impact on people’s lives. And every minute is valuable. Switching from days waiting on replies to minutes not only saves budget but can help the next patients waiting for treatment.

It’s true, texting isn’t just for millennials. By innovating within the established format the NHS is breathing new life into SMS. Long may our addiction continue.