Factors influencing non-attendance at sexual healthcare appointments in the UK: a qualitative study

Sex Health. 2023 Oct;20(5):461-469. doi: 10.1071/SH23099.


Background: Missed sexual healthcare appointments lead to inefficiencies and wasted resources, longer waiting times and poorer outcomes. The aim of this research was to identify factors influencing non-attendance at sexual healthcare appointments and to make recommendations for interventions.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were carried out with UK-based sexual health service-users with experience of booking and missing appointments and sexual health professionals (n =28). Interviews were analysed using a thematic framework approach.

Results: Perceptual, practical, and organisational factors were found to influence missed appointments. Perceptual factors included beliefs about the outcomes of attending; sense of responsibility to attend; and concerns about privacy and security. Practical factors included competing demands and disruption to daily life; ability to attend; and forgetting. Organisational factors included mode of appointment delivery and availability of appointments.

Conclusions: Interventions should combine strategies shown to be effective for overcoming practical barriers to attendance (e.g. reminder systems) with novel strategies communicating the benefits of attending and risks of missed appointments (e.g. behaviourally informed messaging). Text reminders containing behaviourally informed messages may be an efficient intervention for targeting perceptual and practical factors associated with missed appointments. Offering appointment modalities to suit individual preference and enabling service-users to remotely cancel/reschedule appointments maight further support a reduction in missed appointments.