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Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Plain Language Summaries [Internet]. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2003-.

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Plain Language Summaries.

Mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments

This version published: 2014; Review content assessed as up-to-date: February 28, 2013.

Plain language summary

Failure to attend healthcare appointments impacts not only the health of the patients but also health system efficiency. In this review, an update of the original review published in July 2012, we assessed whether sending patients appointment reminders using mobile phone text messaging (Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Message Service (MMS)) could improve attendance.

The review included eight randomised controlled trials published up to August 2012, involving 6615 participants. Four of these trials were newly included in this update. Low to moderate quality evidence included in this review shows that mobile phone text messaging reminders increase attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders and postal reminders, and have the same impact on attendance as phone call reminders. Two studies reported that the costs per attendance of mobile phone text message reminders are less than phone call reminders.

One study reported generally that there were no adverse effects during the study period; none of the studies reported in detail on specific adverse events such as loss of privacy, data misinterpretation, or message delivery failure. The studies included in the review did not report on health outcomes or people's perceptions of safety related to receiving reminders by text message. Further randomised trials are needed to assess the effects of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments.

Abstract

Background: This review is an update of the original Cochrane review published in July 2012. Missed appointments are a major cause of inefficiency in healthcare delivery with substantial monetary costs for the health system, leading to delays in diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Patients' forgetfulness is one of the main reasons for missed appointments. Patient reminders may help reduce missed appointments. Modes of communicating reminders for appointments to patients include face‐to‐face communication, postal messages, calls to landlines or mobile phones, and mobile phone messaging. Mobile phone messaging applications, such as Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Message Service (MMS), could provide an important, inexpensive delivery medium for reminders for healthcare appointments.

Objectives: To update our review assessing the effects of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments. Secondary objectives include assessment of costs; health outcomes; patients' and healthcare providers' evaluation of the intervention and perceptions of safety; and possible harms and adverse effects associated with the intervention.

Search methods: Original searches were run in June 2009. For this update, we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL,The Cochrane Library 2012, Issue 8), MEDLINE (OvidSP) (January 1993 to August 2012), EMBASE (OvidSP) (January 1993 to August 2012), PsycINFO (OvidSP) (January 1993 to August 2012) and CINAHL (EbscoHOST) (January 1993 to August 2012). We also reviewed grey literature (including trial registers) and reference lists of articles.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) assessing mobile phone messaging as reminders for healthcare appointments. We only included studies in which it was possible to assess effects of mobile phone messaging independent of other technologies or interventions.  

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently assessed all studies against the inclusion criteria, with any disagreements resolved by a third review author. Study design features, characteristics of target populations, interventions and controls, and results data were extracted by two review authors and confirmed by a third author. Two authors assessed the risk of bias of the included studies. As the intervention characteristics and outcome measures were similar across included studies, we conducted a meta‐analysis to estimate an overall effect size.

Main results: We included eight randomised controlled trials involving 6615 participants. Four of these studies were newly identified during this update.

We found moderate quality evidence from seven studies (5841 participants) that mobile text message reminders improved the rate of attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders (risk ratio (RR) 1.14 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.03 to 1.26)). There was also moderate quality evidence from three studies (2509 participants) that mobile text message reminders had a similar impact to phone call reminders (RR 0.99 (95% CI 0.95 to 1.02). Low quality evidence from one study (291 participants) suggests that mobile text message reminders combined with postal reminders improved the rate of attendance at healthcare appointments compared to postal reminders alone (RR 1.10 (95% CI 1.02 to 1.19)). Overall, the attendance to appointment rates were 67.8% for the no reminders group, 78.6% for the mobile phone messaging reminders group and 80.3% for the phone call reminders group. One study reported generally that there were no adverse effects during the study period; none of the studies reported in detail on specific adverse events such as loss of privacy, data misinterpretation, or message delivery failure. Two studies reported that the costs per text message per attendance were respectively 55% and 65% lower than costs per phone call reminder. The studies included in the review did not report on health outcomes or people's perceptions of safety related to receiving reminders by text message.

Authors' conclusions: Low to moderate quality evidence included in this review shows that mobile phone text messaging reminders increase attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders, or postal reminders.

Text messaging reminders were similar to telephone reminders in terms of their effect on attendance rates, and cost less than telephone reminders. However, the included studies were heterogeneous and the quality of the evidence therein is low to moderate. Further, there is a lack of information about health effects, adverse effects and harms, user evaluation of the intervention and user perceptions of its safety. The current evidence therefore still remains insufficient to conclusively inform policy decisions.

There is a need for more high‐quality randomised trials of mobile phone messaging reminders, that measure not only patients’ attendance rates, but also focus on the cost‐effectiveness of these interventions. Health outcomes, patients’ and healthcare providers’ evaluation and perceptions of the safety of the interventions, potential harms, and adverse effects of mobile phone messaging reminders should be assessed. Studies should report message content and timing in relation to the appointment.

Editorial Group: Cochrane Consumers and Communication Group.

Publication status: New search for studies and content updated (no change to conclusions).

Citation: Gurol‐Urganci I, de Jongh T, Vodopivec‐Jamsek V, Atun R, Car J. Mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD007458. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007458.pub3. Link to Cochrane Library. [PubMed: 24310741]

Copyright © 2013 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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