Every year it’s estimated that more than 10 million GP appointments – around 5% of all available – end up as ‘did not attends’ (DNAs) according to the General Practitioner’s Council. With an average appointment time of ten minutes, that adds up to 69,444 hours wasted.

Such staggering figures are enough to cause concern when looked at on their own, in isolation from other factors. But when they’re examined alongside the context of the increasing amount of pressure that practices are facing to work more effectively and efficiently, those figures become even more worrying.

While there are multiple reasons as to why patients might not be able to attend an appointment, there are multiple steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood of that happening. To help you understand what those steps are, we’ve laid out what you can do to begin to reclaim the hours that can be lost to DNAs.

Send patients in the right direction

Booking an appointment to see a nurse or GP doesn’t have to always be the first port of call for patients. While some will undoubtedly need to see a clinician at your practice, you can guide patients to other resources in order to cut unnecessary appointments and DNAs.

It’s therefore key that you make the best use of your website, which can act as a primary access point to your services for most patients and can send patients down the right care pathway. That means linking to NHS services, as well as displaying local health information that can triage patients to more appropriate care settings like community pharmacy.

It’s also a great place to link out to helpful health resources like Patient.info, which allows patients to check their symptoms and find out more about their health issues so that they can decide whether or not they need to see a clinician.

Do keep in mind, however, that to make your website a helpful tool for patients, you should keep links and details up to date. If you do, your website can take on an important role in cutting DNAs.

“surprisingly few of us are using the free online services now offered by almost every GP surgery in England.”

Chris Spencer

CEO, EMIS Group

One click to cancel online

Your website can also prove useful in acting as the portal for patients to access online services.

Not only do online services allow patients to simply cancel appointments at the click of a button, they also give them the ability to easily look ahead and see all future available appointments. With the option to pick a time that suits them best from a list of free slots, you can give patients more options than a receptionist can – after all, they can’t detail all the free appointments at their desk or over the phone – which can help to diminish DNAs.

However, even with the clear benefits online services can bring, they’re often not being properly utilised by practices and patients. As Chris Spencer, EMIS Group’s CEO, recently commented, “surprisingly few of us are using the free online services now offered by almost every GP surgery in England.”

It’s a problem that’s fairly easy to tackle though, since it’s relatively simple to promote these services. Check out Patient Access’s tips and promotional resources page for some of the free materials available for EMIS Web practices.

Accommodate busy schedules

All of our lives seem to be getting busier and it’s the same for patients too. From work to childcare commitments, it can often be difficult for patients to fit attending their practice into their schedule.

That’s why it’s important that you give patients a variety of appointment types. That means not just different time and date options, but also different forms of consultation. For some patients, video consultations can be a more convenient alternative to traditional face-to-face appointments. Easily done through any connected device, these consultations give patients the ability to consult with their GP or nurse from home or a quiet place at work.

By giving your patients as many options as possible, you can help to ensure that you can work around their needs and schedules so that appointments are more likely to be attended, in whatever form they may take.

Keep your lines clear

Despite the various options that you can offer in terms of appointment types or ways to get in touch, there will still be a noticeable proportion of patients who prefer to speak to their practice directly.

To cater to these patients, you need to ensure that your telephone system is fit for purpose and is able to effectively manage – and triage – calls that come through. We’ve all experienced how frustrating it can be to wait on the phone to speak to someone, or how discouraging it can be to be passed from one department to another before getting to the right person. If patients don’t have to face these barriers, then it’s likely they’ll want to contact you to let you know they can’t make an appointment.

A better-working phone system can be used to offer telephone appointments to patients, too. Like video consultations, these appointments can often be more easily scheduled for patients. Plus, they give the added benefit of allowing clinicians to offer appointments at quieter times in the practice.

Tackle the problem together

Although the steps above outline what you and your practice can do to tackle DNAs, it’s worth engaging with your patients on the issue too.

The pressures practices face aren’t lost on patients, but they may not be aware of the impact that missed appointments have. By making use of your communication channels – from your website to waiting room screens – you can make patients aware of the issue so that they can work with you to combat it.

With patient cooperation and by following the above steps, you can really start to tackle the problem of DNAs and start to recover some of your lost time.