Reminder systems to improve patient adherence to tuberculosis clinic appointments for diagnosis and treatment

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Nov 18;2014(11):CD006594. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006594.pub3.


Background: People with active tuberculosis (TB) require six months of treatment. Some people find it difficult to complete treatment, and there are several approaches to help ensure completion. One such system relies on reminders, where the health system prompts patients to attend for appointments on time, or re-engages people who have missed or defaulted on a scheduled appointment.

Objectives: To assess the effects of reminder systems on improving attendance at TB diagnosis, prophylaxis, and treatment clinic appointments, and their effects on TB treatment outcomes.

Search methods: We searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register, Cochrane Effective Practice and Organization of Care Group Specialized Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, LILACS, CINAHL, SCI-EXPANDED, SSCI, mRCT, and the Indian Journal of Tuberculosis without language restriction up to 29 August 2014. We also checked reference lists and contacted researchers working in the field.

Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs), including cluster RCTs and quasi-RCTs, and controlled before-and-after studies comparing reminder systems with no reminders or an alternative reminder system for people with scheduled appointments for TB diagnosis, prophylaxis, or treatment.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed the risk of bias in the included trials. We compared the effects of interventions by using risk ratios (RR) and presented RRs with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Also we assessed the quality of evidence using the GRADE approach.

Main results: Nine trials, including 4654 participants, met our inclusion criteria. Five trials evaluated appointment reminders for people on treatment for active TB, two for people on prophylaxis for latent TB, and four for people undergoing TB screening using skin tests. We classified the interventions into 'pre-appointment' reminders (telephone calls or letters prior to a scheduled appointment) or 'default' reminders (telephone calls, letters, or home visits to people who had missed an appointment).For people being treated for active TB, clinic attendance and TB treatment completion were higher in people receiving pre-appointment reminder phone-calls (clinic attendance: 66% versus 50%; RR 1.32, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.59, one trial (USA), 615 participants, low quality evidence; TB treatment completion: 100% versus 88%; RR 1.14, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.27, one trial (Thailand), 92 participants, low quality evidence). Clinic attendance and TB treatment completion were also higher with default reminders (letters or home visits) (clinic attendance: 52% versus 10%; RR 5.04, 95% CI 1.61 to 15.78, one trial (India), 52 participants, low quality evidence; treatment completion: RR 1.17, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.24, two trials (Iraq and India), 680 participants, moderate quality evidence).For people on TB prophylaxis, clinic attendance was higher with a policy of pre-appointment phone-calls (63% versus 48%; RR 1.30, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.59, one trial (USA), 536 participants); and attendance at the final clinic was higher with regular three-monthly phone-calls or nurse visits (93% versus 65%, one trial (Spain), 318 participants).For people undergoing screening for TB, three trials of pre-appointment phone-calls found little or no effect on the proportion of people returning to clinic for the result of their skin test (three trials, 1189 participants, low quality evidence), and two trials found little or no effect with take home reminder cards (two trials, 711 participants). All four trials were conducted among healthy volunteers in the USA.

Authors' conclusions: Policies of sending reminders to people pre-appointment, and contacting people who miss appointments, seem sensible additions to any TB programme, and the limited evidence available suggests they have small but potentially important benefits. Future studies of modern technologies such as short message service (SMS) reminders would be useful, particularly in low-resource settings.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Appointments and Schedules*
  • Child
  • Directly Observed Therapy
  • Humans
  • Latent Tuberculosis / prevention & control
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Reminder Systems*
  • Skin Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis, Pulmonary / drug therapy*