Robocalls reducing patient no-shows in Nova Scotia Health's eastern zone

Nova Scotia Health says its highest no-show rate is among patients waiting for ultrasound appointments at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, N.S. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Nova Scotia Health says its highest no-show rate is among patients waiting for ultrasound appointments at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, N.S. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

Robocalls are being used to reduce no-shows for some medical services in parts of Nova Scotia and the program will be expanded in 2023.

There were 4,600 missed appointments for diagnostic imaging at hospitals in Cape Breton last year, along with Guysborough and Antigonish counties.

According to Nova Scotia Health, the highest rate for absences in its eastern health zone was for ultrasounds at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, with 1,000 no-shows recorded.

"It's a waste," said Raylene McGhee, zone director for diagnostic imaging and cardiac services. "It's a waste of our resources, sometimes for staffing, sometimes for equipment."

McGhee said Nova Scotia Health tries to call with appointment reminders but it's not always possible due to demands on hospital staff. But when staff do know a patient is unable to attend, it allows them to book others in their place.

Repeated calls

McGhee said the automated service attempts to reach them five times and stops calling once the phone has been answered, as opposed to calling once and being unable to reach a patient.

As an experiment, staff in the eastern zone spent a month following up with patients who had missed appointments for diagnostic imaging.

The main reasons people didn't show was because they either forgot to cancel or did not know they even had an appointment in the first place.

Patients waiting for ultrasounds at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital have been receiving calls through the automated service since late June. McGhee said the system has already saved the Sydney hospital at least 20 appointments per month.

Calls from the service will show an unknown name and number. When answered, a computerized voice will remind patients of the date of their tests.

Program to expand

McGhee said diagnostic imaging departments across Cape Breton are expanding the program in the new year with robocalls for patients waiting for ultrasounds, CT scans and MRIs.

Based on the ongoing results of these trials, Nova Scotia Health said the system might be expanded to other services, facilities or health zones.

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