Marketing professionals believe that text messages offer one of the fastest and most effective means of targeting customers. Most individuals carry their mobile phones with them at all times, so the likelihood the message will get through is much higher than with other forms of direct marketing such as post or email.
Homerton University Hospital in East London has decided to put this principle into practice in an unusual way. In July 2002, the Sexual Health Department of the hospital launched a text messaging service that reminds patients to turn up for their appointments at the clinic two days ahead of schedule.
The hospital hopes the text messaging service, currently undergoing a three-month trial, will improve patient attendance at the clinic. Prior to the trial, only 60% of appointments were kept by patients.
Homerton Hospital will continue to notify patients of their appointments by post, but hopes that reminding patients of their appointments by text message will mean they will see fewer no-shows. When this happens, patients have to return to their GP to get another appointment, placing a further burden on the hard-pressed National Health Service.
Dipak Duggal, head of the hospital's diagnostic and emergency services department, came up with the idea while flicking through his own text messages one day. If the service works, he says, it will be extended to other departments with similar attendance problems.