Enhancing Usability of Appointment Reminders: Qualitative Interviews of Patients Receiving Care in the Veterans Health Administration

J Gen Intern Med. 2021 Jan;36(1):121-128. doi: 10.1007/s11606-020-06183-5. Epub 2020 Sep 9.


Background: No-shows are a persistent and costly problem in all healthcare systems. Because forgetting is a common cause of no-shows, appointment reminders are widely used. However, qualitative research examining appointment reminders and how to improve them is lacking.

Objective: To understand how patients experience appointment reminders as part of intervention development for a pragmatic trial of enhanced appointment reminders.

Design: Qualitative content analysis PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-seven patients at a single Department of Veterans Affairs hospital and its satellite clinics APPROACH: We conducted five waves of interviews using rapid qualitative analysis, in each wave continuing to ask veterans about their experience of reminders. We double-coded all interviews, used deductive and inductive content analysis to identify themes, and selected quotations that exemplified three themes (limitations, strategies, recommendations).

Key results: Interviews showed four limitations on the usability of current appointment reminders which may contribute to no-shows: (1) excessive information within reminders; (2) frustrating telephone systems when calling in response to an appointment reminder; (3) missing or cryptic information about clinic logistics; and (4) reminder fatigue. Patients who were successful at keeping appointments often used specific strategies to optimize the usability of reminders, including (1) using a calendar; (2) heightening visibility; (3) piggybacking; and (4) combining strategies. Our recommendations to enhance reminders are as follows: (1) mix up their content and format; (2) keep them short and simple; (3) add a personal touch; (4) include specifics on clinic location and contact information; (5) time reminders based on the mode of delivery; and (6) hand over control of reminders to patients.

Conclusions: Appointment reminders are vital to prevent no-shows, but their usability is not optimized for patients. There is potential for healthcare systems to modify several aspects of the content, timing, and delivery of appointment reminders to be more effective and patient-centered.

Keywords: access to care; military veterans; missed appointments; no-shows; reminder.

Publication types

  • Pragmatic Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Appointments and Schedules
  • Humans
  • Patient Compliance
  • Reminder Systems
  • Veterans Health*
  • Veterans*