A significant proportion of patients referred to psychiatric out-patient clinics fail to attend the first appointment. Previous work suggested that typically 30% do not attend (Burgess & Harrington, 1964; Skuse, 1975) and this results in an inefficient utilisation of psychiatrists' time. One solution would be to overbook new patients by 30%. Unfortunately the proportion of non-attendance at each clinic is variable and difficult to estimate in advance. Psychiatrists have been shown to be poor predictors of non-attendance from examining referral letters (Woods, 1992). Overbooking might result in a long waiting time and short time for assessment. Previous research has suggested patients are more likely to attend if they received a personal letter rather than a standard card, had a previous psychiatric history, and if they were seen in a health centre rather than a hospital (Hillis, 1990). Allaying the patient's fears and misconceptions about psychiatry also improved attendance (Skuse, 1975). Work in a child and family setting suggested that sending a family questionnaire prior to the appointment reduced the non-attendance rate (Mathai & Markantonakis, 1990).
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