NHG implements $8 deposit which is forfeited if patients don’t turn up
BE PREPARED to forfeit an $8 deposit fee if you are a no-show at your next dental appointment with a National Healthcare Group (NHG) dental clinic.
Since last month, NHG has put in place the measure in a bid to weed out patients who default on their date with the dentist.
Over the past year, the NHG said four out of 10 patients failed to keep their appointments with its five dental clinics here, wasting slots that could have gone to other patients who need them.
It is a similar situation for the four dental clinics run by SingHealth. Three in 10 patients failed to turn up for their appointments last year, a spokesman said, but she added that it will not be implementing the cash deposit system.
Both NHG and SingHealth dental clinics offer subsidised services such as tooth extraction and fillings.
These clinics operate on an appointment basis only; walk-in cases are also attended to but only after the patients with appointments have been seen.
Not showing up on the designated date means other patients are deprived of an earlier appointment slot. The waiting time for an appointment is typically between three months and half a year.
“When patients fail to keep to their appointments or give us advance notice to cancel or reschedule, we are unable to release those slots to other patients who need them,” said an NHG spokesman.
Both health-care groups are seeing a growing number of patients seeking treatment at their dental clinics.
In 2007, the NHG clinics saw about 58,000 patients. This grew by 11,000 patients the next year. More than 71,000 patients were seen from January to October last year.
SingHealth saw about 30,000 patients in 2007 and almost 500 patients more the next year. Last year’s figures were not available.
Its clinics have been sending SMS messages to their patients three days in advance to remind them of their appointments.
The NHG has also had this practice for the past two years: Phone messages are sent to its patients four days before the appointment dates. Reminder letters are sent a week before the dental appointments.
But these measures have not yielded a “positive improvement”, said its spokesman.
The NHG spokesman also explained that the $8 deposit is only for those who require follow-up appointments for their subsidised services.
It will not be forfeited if the appointment is cancelled or rescheduled within at least three working days.
The $8 deposit fee is also waived for those on public assistance or Medifund schemes, the spokesman added.
The Straits Times yesterday spoke to 12 people who had been to an NHG dental clinic recently. The majority felt the move was a reasonable one.
Said Mr David Chng, a 56-year-old education officer: “For someone who fails to show up for an appointment, it is not just a waste of time for the dentists and staff of the polyclinic but also a waste of time for other patients who could have taken his place.”
Housewife Liao Chun Ying, 40, who saw a dentist at the Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic for an emergency tooth extraction yesterday, said: “I personally know the frustration since I have been calling different dentists the whole of today... but they were all full or too expensive.”
However, there were others like Mr Lim Fah Kiong who feared that the move may lead to patients from lower-income families giving up follow-up treatments.
The 64-year-old retiree found out about the cash deposit measure after visiting the dentist at the Toa Payoh Polyclinic two weeks ago and wrote to The Straits Times after that.
When told that the fee would be waived for patients on public assistance or Medifund schemes, Mr Lim pointed out that not everyone with financial difficulties was on such schemes.
There could also be a problem for the elderly who forget their appointments, said a 60-year-old housewife who did not want to be named.
“Yes, they will remind us by SMS, but it’s hard to track. It’s too easy to forget and so we lose our deposit.”