Missed appointments cost hospitals millions

21:33, Jul 24 2014

Millions of taxpayers' dollars are being wasted because Auckland patients are not turning up to their hospital appointments.

Health board figures show nearly 10 per cent of patients are not showing up at the regions three hospital areas.

Reasons range from conflicting commitments, transport issues, not knowing about or forgetting their appointments, and the hospital boards have put strategies in place to address the issue, including negotiating appointment times before setting them.

Missed appointments cost already cash-strapped health boards tight funds and can cause delays and missed opportunities for other patients as highly trained specialists' time is wasted.

Over the past year, 4829 patients missed specialist appointments and just under 17,000 missed follow-up appointments at the Counties Manukau District Health Board.

The number was more than 8.5 per cent of total hospital appointments.

Costs varied across the city's hospitals but were estimated to be $260 for each specialist appointment and $180 for follow-ups in Manukau, translating to a loss of about $4.3 million, with similar figures reported in each of the past three years.

Auckland and Waitemata district health boards couldn't provide approximate costs for their missed appointments but in a joint statement said it represented a missed opportunity.

"Costs for appointments can vary widely across different services and specialities," they said.

"The cost also varies depending on what is involved in individual appointments - radiology, bloods, labs."

In 2012-2013, 9 per cent of Waitemata patients and 7 per cent of Auckland patients did not attend their appointments.

Maori patients reportedly have the highest rates of non-attendance with 16 per cent not turning up to appointments in Waitemata and 13 per cent missing appointments in Auckland city.

Pacific patients are close behind in the statistics with 14 per cent not attending in Waitemata and 11 per cent at Auckland.

Strategies aimed directly at those groups had been put in place as well as initiatives to improve communication with all patients.

Specific moves include phoning patients to agree on the time of the first appointment and giving patients more control over the booking process.

The Maori Health service would be calling all Maori patients to remind them of their appointments and to talk about barriers to attendance.

The Auckland DHB's Pacific unit was concentrating on reducing non-attendance by Pacific patients. The unit would also provide follow-up resources for those who didn't attend their appointments.

Four services had been identified as needing most attention - the cancer and blood unit, the diabetes clinics, cardiac clinics, and paediatrics.