N.L. expands health care notification system in effort to push back against missed appointments
Newfoundland and Labrador is expanding its health care automated notification system in an attempt to cut down on patients missing their appointments — which, in turn, further backs up wait lists.
The system already exists in clinical areas, including endoscopy, medical imaging and cardiac and pulmonary services. It will expand into neurology and nephrology within the next eight weeks.
The full health-care system will have automated appointment notifications within the "coming months," Health Minister Tom Osborne told reporters on Wednesday.
Osborne offered a snapshot into just how many appointments are being missed in Newfoundland and Labrador.
He said 20 to 24 per cent of Holter monitor appointments are going unfulfilled, missed EEG tests add up to one full day per week, pulmonary function tests account for 17 per cent missed appointments and laboratory services, and ultrasounds and the new family care teams each have a rate of 10 per cent in missed appointments. The province's goal is to have missed appointment rates at two per cent or less.
"The monetary cost of missed appointments is in the tens of millions of dollars," Osborne said.
"For our health professionals, this is going to be a benefit as well because they don't want to see missed appointments which leads to an extended wait list."
The benefit of expanding on this system is a direct effort in attempting to cut down lengthy waiting times, said Osborne.
"If we can reduce the number of missed appointments, that directly reflects on wait lists," he said.
"The benefit is faster service, shorter wait lists and health system efficiencies. Everybody wins."
Patients who are not already signed up for notifications will be automatically signed up during their next appointment. They will be given an option on how to receive their appointment notification; through text, email or phone call. Patients can also choose to cancel an appointment when that notification arrives.
Ron Johnson, vice-president and COO of the Eastern Urban Zone of Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services (NLHS), said in the event of a cancellation, the next person on the wait list will be notified of the opening immediately.
"Immediately we know who declined, so then what happens, daily, a report is ran and then the next person is contacted," Johnson said.
"Otherwise, if we never had this … basically that slot is left empty and no one shows up and the provider is there seeing nobody."
Johnson said areas where the system exists has already proved successful in reducing missed appointments.
He said prior to the pandemic some areas showed reductions in missed appointments between 30 and 50 per cent.
Osborne said the review of clinical areas experiencing the most missed appointments was a team effort through the province's four former health authorities — which now all sit under the NLHS umbrella as one.
He said that review began in November or December and has since been a priority under the now singular health authority.
"The results were both enlightening and shocking," Osborne said.
"It became clear that there was a lack of consistency in our missed appointment policies across the province and even within hospitals."