Use of telephone and SMS reminders to improve attendance at hospital appointments: a systematic review

J Telemed Telecare. 2011;17(7):358-64. doi: 10.1258/jtt.2011.110707. Epub 2011 Sep 20.


Patients failing to attend hospital appointments contribute to inefficient use of resources. We conducted a systematic review of studies providing a reminder to patients by phone, short message service (SMS) or automated phone calls. A PubMed search was conducted to identify articles published after 1999, describing studies of non-attendance at hospital appointments. In addition, we searched the references in the included papers. In total, 29 studies were included in the review. Four had two intervention arms which were treated as independent studies, giving a total of 33 estimates. The papers were analysed by two observers independently. A study quality score was developed and used to weight the data. Weighted means of the absolute and the relative changes in non-attendance were calculated. All studies except one reported a benefit from sending reminders to patients prior to their appointment. The synthesis suggests that the weighted mean relative change in non-attendance was 34% of the baseline non-attendance rate. Automated reminders were less effective than manual phone calls (29% vs 39% of baseline value). There appeared to be no difference in non-attendance rate, whether the reminder was sent the day before the appointment or the week before. Cost and savings were not measured formally in any of the papers, but almost half of them included cost estimates. The average cost of using either SMS, automated phone calls or phone calls was €0.41 per reminder. Although formal evidence of cost-effectiveness is lacking, the implication of the review is that all hospitals should consider using automated reminders to reduce non-attendance at appointments.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Appointments and Schedules*
  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Outpatient Clinics, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Outpatients / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reminder Systems*