At some point in our lives, for one reason or another, we have all missed an appointment. At the hairdressers, the bank, and even very occasionally, with our GP.
However, according to a study published by The Lancet Public Health Journal, perhaps it’s more occasionally than we like to admit. In fact, the study of over 500,000 people found that 1 in 5 of us regularly missed their GP appointments. Quite simply, these missed appointments hurt and damage the NHS, but to what effect?
Well, with NHS England recently suggesting it “could cost the health service in excess of £162m per year”, it’s probably time we look to devise both reasoned and progressive solutions. We owe it to taxpayers, practice staff, and we owe it to the patients themselves.
As I see it, AI digital technology must be seen as part of the rational and logical step forward to bridge the patient-GP communication gap, in which countless appointments are missed, and for the NHS, millions of pounds are lost. It’s about harnessing the technological advancements in communication services, to work in tandem with our existing healthcare services, not against them or instead of them.
At an infrastructure level, the saving capabilities of AI technologies for healthcare delivery is not limited to reactive automated management of missed appointments. It also has a proactive role, allowing clinicians and patients to interact with each other, and monitor day to day health. Medication reminders, health coaching, and chronic disease management, are just some of the exciting possibilities where AI technology could improve health at a population level with minimal cost and human resource required. Simply, digital technology can help contribute to higher levels of public health awareness, which in turn, eases the pressure in our GP waiting rooms.
However, the preferred “solution” to missed appointments is often suggested to be implementation of a fining system. Personally, I don’t accept that this is the best way to solve the issue. Fining patients is simply not the way to engage. Instead, patients must be empowered by a relationship with their GP that is modern, interactive and accessible. It is time to move on from letters lost in the post and terse SMS messaging.
As far back as 1999, a DPP survey showed us an estimated £150m worth of appointment time is lost each year because of missed GP appointments; the latest figures are nothing new. The difference is, we now have the digital AI technologies to make a difference.
The joy of the NHS is that it belongs to all of us, we all have a stake in it, and we can all play a part in its forward-thinking, progressive success story. Dr Mobasher Butt is a Partner at GP at Hand, former adviser to the Chief Medical Officer and Medical Director at Babylon Health.