Reports From the Field

Improved Appointment Reminders at a VA Ophthalmology Clinic


 

References

From the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, Department of Ophthalmology, University of California-Irvine, Irvine, CA.

Abstract

  • Objective: To describe a change in mail notification approach at a Veterans Affairs hospital and its impact on appointments.
  • Methods: A new notification system was implemented in which the information on the notice was limited to the date, time, and location of the appointment. Previously, the notice contained information about patients’ appointment time in addition to listing methods of rescheduling, patient account information, and a variety of VA policies presented in a disorganized manner. We assessed whether there was a reduction in number of patients who had to be redirected by clinical staff at the ophthalmology clinic at the Long Beach Veterans Affairs Hospital.
  • Results: The mean number patients who visited the clinic mistakenly during the 14 days prior to the new notification system was 14.93 (SD = 6.05) compared with 9.4 (SD = 3.45; P = 0.005) during the 15 days after.
  • Conclusion: A simple abbreviated notification has the potential to improve patient understanding and can increase clinical efficiency, ultimately reducing health costs.

Across the United States, patients at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals are routinely informed of their clinic appointments via both telephone and conventional mail notifications. Prior studies have confirmed that appointment reminders reduce no-show rates, thus increasing clinical efficiency and decreasing health care costs [1–10]. At the same time, avoiding occasions where patients who do not have an appointment arrive erroneously also enhances efficiency, allowing clinic staff to focus their attention on patients assigned to their clinic.

Recently a new notification system was implemented at our medical center. This new notification system involves a folded mailer delivered by the US Postal Service that provides patients only with the essential information necessary for timely arrival at the correct location to their appointments. The telephone notification system that works in tandem with this has been retained. In this report, we describe the change and the results seen in our clinic.

Methods

Setting

The Veterans Affairs Long Beach Healthcare system maintains a large teaching medical campus in Long Beach, CA. The medical center and its community clinics employ more than 2200 full-time employees and provide care for more than 50,000 veterans. There are 37 outpatient clinics located on the main campus.

Our study was conducted in the outpatient ophthalmology clinic, located on the main campus. The clinic is open 8 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday and sees on average 30 to 40 patients per day with a front desk staffed with 2 secretaries. When a patient arrives to the clinic, their information (name, social security number, date/time of appointment, etc.) is looked up in a national database. If the patient arrives at the incorrect location, time is additionally spent redirecting patients.

Notification System

In the prior notification scheme, patients were mailed in an envelope a notice printed on 8.5" x 11" paper that included their appointment time and also listed methods of rescheduling, their account information, and a variety of VA policies presented in a disorganized manner ( Figure 1

Next Article: