Solving the problem of non-attendance in substance abuse services

Drug Alcohol Rev. 2014 Nov;33(6):625-36. doi: 10.1111/dar.12194. Epub 2014 Sep 6.


Issues: Rates of non-attendance are among the highest in substance misuse services. Non-attendance is costly and results in the inefficient use of limited resources. Patients who frequently miss their appointments have worse outcomes including treatment dropout and decreased likelihood of achieving long-term abstinence.

Approach: This narrative review evaluates interventions targeting non-attendance in addiction services and draws upon the wider health-care literature to identify interventions that could be adapted for substance-abusing populations.

Key findings: Both fixed value and intermittent reinforcement contingency management demonstrate potential for improving attendance. However, small sample sizes and heterogeneous populations make it difficult to draw firm conclusions. Appointment reminders by letter or telephone have demonstrated moderate evidence for improving attendance in substance-abusing populations. Text message appointment reminders are extensively utilised in general health-care settings and consistently improve attendance; however, there is a paucity of research examining the feasibility and effectiveness of text message reminders in addiction services.

Implications: A lack of evidence for methods to improve attendance is reflected in the continuing challenge faced by addiction services attempting to manage high rates of non-attendance.

Conclusions: Non-attendance remains a persistent issue for addiction services. While there is limited evidence that contingency management improves attendance, more rigorous research is needed to determine the optimal intervention components and effectiveness in different populations, particularly those receiving maintenance treatments. Multicomponent text message interventions incorporating different delivery and content strategies demonstrate a promise for improving non-attendance and poor engagement.

Keywords: SMS messaging; appointment reminder; contingency management; non-attendance; substance misuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Appointments and Schedules
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services* / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Compliance / psychology*
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Dropouts / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*