The effect of telephone appointment-reminder calls on outpatient absenteeism in a pulmonary function laboratory

Jeffrey M Haynes, Elizabeth L Sweeney
Respiratory Care 2006, 51 (1): 36-9

BACKGROUND: Absenteeism from outpatient appointments is common. Telephone appointment-reminder calls reduce outpatient-appointment absenteeism in many clinic settings.

OBJECTIVE: To determine if telephone appointment-reminder calls reduce outpatient absenteeism at a hospital-based pulmonary function laboratory.

METHODS: We conducted a retrospective review of our pulmonary function laboratory's outpatient appointment records from April to November 2004. Data were collected from consecutive outpatient appointments, including patient age, sex, whether a telephone appointment-reminder call was successfully made, and whether the patient showed up for the scheduled test. We performed 3 analyses. Differences in absenteeism between the groups was the primary outcome measure. First, appointments were separated into 2 groups: (1) appointments for which a reminder call was attempted ("called" group) and (2) appointments for which a reminder call was not attempted ("not-called" group). The appointments were then separated into 2 further groups: (1) the reminder call was successfully achieved ("contacted" group) and (2) the patient either was not called or was called but could not be reached ("not-contacted" group). Finally, the contacted group was separated into 2 further groups: (1) reminder calls that resulted in direct conversation with an appropriate person at the patient's listed telephone number, and (2) reminder message left on an answering machine.

RESULTS: Data were collected from 515 consecutive outpatient appointments; 45 (8.7%) of these patients did not show up for testing. The absentee rate was 4.7% (n = 10) in the called group and 11.6% (n = 35) in the not-called group (p = 0.0066). In the called group, 6.5% (n = 14) could not be reached. The absentee rate was 4% (n = 8) in the contacted group and 11.7% (n = 37) in the not-contacted group (p = 0.0021). We found no difference in absenteeism between patients who received reminders via direct conversation (4.2%) and those who had a reminder message left on an answering machine (3.7%) (p > 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: A policy of reminding outpatients of their appointments via telephone reduces absenteeism at a hospital-based pulmonary function laboratory. We found no difference in absenteeism between communicating the reminder via direct conversation versus via leaving a message on an answering machine.

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