The effect of automatically generated reminders delivered to providers on paper on professional practice

Healthcare professionals do not always provide care that is recommended or that reflects the latest research, partly because of information overload or inaccessibility. Reminders may help doctors overcome these problems by reminding them about important information or providing advice, in a more accessible and relevant format, at a particularly appropriate time. For example, when a doctor sees a patient for his annual check-up, he receives the patient's chart with a reminder section detailing the screening tests that are due that year, such as colorectal cancer screening.

This review found 32 studies that evaluated the effects of reminders, automatically generated through a computer system but delivered on paper to healthcare professionals, compared to usual care. The studies examined reminders to order screening tests, to provide vaccinations, to prescribe specific medications, or to discuss issues with patients. The reminders improved professional practices by 7% (median). When reminders provided space for the healthcare professional to enter a response and provided an explanation for the reminder, the effect was greater than when these features were not present. Reminders to provide vaccinations were the most effective, while reminders to discuss issues with patients were the least effective.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is moderate quality evidence that computer-generated reminders delivered on paper to healthcare professionals achieve moderate improvement in process of care. Two characteristics emerged as significant predictors of improvement: providing space on the reminder for a response from the clinician and providing an explanation of the reminder’s content or advice. The heterogeneity of the reminder interventions included in this review also suggests that reminders can improve care in various settings under various conditions

Read the full abstract...

Clinical practice does not always reflect best practice and evidence, partly because of unconscious acts of omission, information overload, or inaccessible information. Reminders may help clinicians overcome these problems by prompting the doctor to recall information that they already know or would be expected to know and by providing information or guidance in a more accessible and relevant format, at a particularly appropriate time.


To evaluate the effects of reminders automatically generated through a computerized system and delivered on paper to healthcare professionals on processes of care (related to healthcare professionals' practice) and outcomes of care (related to patients' health condition).

Search strategy: 

For this update the EPOC Trials Search Co-ordinator searched the following databases between June 11-19, 2012: The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) and Cochrane Library (Economics, Methods, and Health Technology Assessment sections), Issue 6, 2012; MEDLINE, OVID (1946- ), Daily Update, and In-process; EMBASE, Ovid (1947- ); CINAHL, EbscoHost (1980- ); EPOC Specialised Register, Reference Manager, and INSPEC, Engineering Village. The authors reviewed reference lists of related reviews and studies. 

Selection criteria: 

We included individual or cluster-randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and non-randomized controlled trials (NRCTs) that evaluated the impact of computer-generated reminders delivered on paper to healthcare professionals on processes and/or outcomes of care.

Data collection and analysis: 

Review authors working in pairs independently screened studies for eligibility and abstracted data. We contacted authors to obtain important missing information for studies that were published within the last 10 years. For each study, we extracted the primary outcome when it was defined or calculated the median effect size across all reported outcomes. We then calculated the median absolute improvement and interquartile range (IQR) in process adherence across included studies using the primary outcome or median outcome as representative outcome.

Main results: 

In the 32 included studies, computer-generated reminders delivered on paper to healthcare professionals achieved moderate improvement in professional practices, with a median improvement of processes of care of 7.0% (IQR: 3.9% to 16.4%). Implementing reminders alone improved care by 11.2% (IQR 6.5% to 19.6%) compared with usual care, while implementing reminders in addition to another intervention improved care by 4.0% only (IQR 3.0% to 6.0%) compared with the other intervention. The quality of evidence for these comparisons was rated as moderate according to the GRADE approach. Two reminder features were associated with larger effect sizes: providing space on the reminder for provider to enter a response (median 13.7% versus 4.3% for no response, P value = 0.01) and providing an explanation of the content or advice on the reminder (median 12.0% versus 4.2% for no explanation, P value = 0.02). Median improvement in processes of care also differed according to the behaviour the reminder targeted: for instance, reminders to vaccinate improved processes of care by 13.1% (IQR 12.2% to 20.7%) compared with other targeted behaviours. In the only study that had sufficient power to detect a clinically significant effect on outcomes of care, reminders were not associated with significant improvements.