Non-attendance rates in psychiatric outpatient clinics have been a topic of considerable interest. It is measured as an indicator of quality of service provision. Failed attendances add to the cost of care as well as having an adverse impact on patients leading to missing medications, delay in identifying relapses and increasing waiting list time. Recent trials have demonstrated that prompting letters sent to patients led to a decrease in non-attendance rates. We applied this evidence based practice in our community mental health setting to evaluate its impact.
Using a before and after study design, we sent prompting letters to all patients due to attend outpatient clinic appointments for a period of six months in 2007. Non-attendance rates were compared with the corresponding period in 2006. We also looked at trends of non-attendance prior to this intervention and compared results with other parts of our service where this intervention had not been applied.
1433 prompting letters were sent out to all out-patient appointments made from June to November 2007. This resulted in an average non-attendance rate of 17% which was significantly less compared to 27% between June and November 2006 (RR 0.65, 95% CI 0.56 to 0.76, NNT 11). No downward trend in non-attendance rate was identified either prior to the intervention or when compared with similar teams across the city.
Prompt letters have been shown to reduce non-attendance rates in previous RCTs and systematic reviews. Our findings demonstrate a reduction in non-attendance rates with prompting letters even under non-trial conditions. Majority of the patients were constant during the two periods compared although there were some changes in medical personnel. This makes it difficult to attribute all the change, solely to the intervention alone. Perhaps our work shows that the results of pragmatic randomised trials are easily applicable and produce similar results in non-randomised settings. We found that prompting letters are a useful and easy to apply evidence based intervention to reduce non-attendance rates with a potential to achieve significant cost savings.