Strategies to improve adherence and acceptability of hormonal methods of contraception

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Oct 26:(10):CD004317. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004317.pub4.


Background: Worldwide, hormonal contraceptives are among the most popular reversible contraceptives. Despite their high theoretical effectiveness, typical use results in much lower effectiveness. In large part, this disparity reflects difficulties in adherence to the contraceptive regimen and low rates for long-term continuation.

Objectives: The intent was to determine the effectiveness of ancillary counseling techniques to improve adherence to, and continuation of, hormonal methods of contraception.

Search methods: Through August 2013, we searched computerized databases for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing client-provider interventions with standard family planning counseling. Sources included CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, POPLINE, and ICTRP. Earlier searches also included LILACS, PsycINFO, Dissertation Abstracts, African Index Medicus, and IMEMR.

Selection criteria: We included RCTs of an intensive counseling technique or other client-provider intervention compared to routine family planning counseling. Interventions included group motivation; structured, peer, or multi-component counseling; and intensive reminders of appointments or next dosing. Outcome measures were discontinuation, reasons for discontinuation, number of missed pills or on-time injections, and pregnancy.

Data collection and analysis: One author evaluated the titles and abstracts from the searches to determine eligibility. Two authors extracted data from the included studies. We calculated the Mantel-Haenszel odds ratio (OR) for dichotomous outcomes. For continuous variables, the mean difference (MD) was computed; RevMan uses the inverse variance approach. For all analyses, 95% confidence intervals (CI) were also computed. Since the studies identified differed in both interventions and outcome measures, we did not conduct a meta-analysis.

Main results: Nine RCTs met our inclusion criteria. Five involved direct counseling; of those, two also provided multiple contacts by telephone. Four other trials provided intensive reminders, two of which also provided health education information. Three trials showed some benefit of the experimental intervention. In a counseling intervention, women who received repeated structured information about the injectable depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) were less likely to discontinue the method by 12 months (OR 0.27; 95% CI 0.16 to 0.44) than women who had routine counseling. The intervention group was also less likely to discontinue due to menstrual disturbances (OR 0.20; 95% CI 0.11 to 0.37). Another trial showed a group with special counseling plus phone calls was more likely than the special-counseling group to report consistent use of oral contraceptives (OC) at 3 months (OR 1.41; 95% CI 1.06 to 1.87), though not at 12 months. The group with only special counseling did not differ significantly from those with standard care for any outcome. The third trial compared daily text-message reminders about OCs plus health information versus standard care. Women in the text-message group were more likely than the standard-care group to continue OC use by six months (OR 1.54; 95% CI 1.14 to 2.10). The text-message group was also more likely to avoid an interruption in OC use longer than seven days (OR 1.53; 95% CI 1.13 to 2.07).

Authors' conclusions: Only three trials showed some benefit of strategies to improve adherence and continuation. However, several had small sample sizes and six had high losses to follow up. The overall quality of evidence was considered moderate. The intervention type and intensity varied greatly across the studies. A combination of intensive counseling and multiple contacts and reminders may be needed to improve adherence and acceptability of contraceptive use. High-quality RCTs with adequate power and well-designed interventions could help identify ways to improve adherence to, and continuation of, hormonal contraceptive methods.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Contraception / psychology*
  • Contraceptive Agents, Female / administration & dosage*
  • Contraceptive Agents, Female / adverse effects
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / administration & dosage
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / adverse effects
  • Counseling
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medication Adherence / psychology*
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / administration & dosage
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / adverse effects
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Refusal / psychology*


  • Contraceptive Agents, Female
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate