Five Ways to Reduce Participant No-shows in Research Studies

09 December 2020

"No-shows" can be incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately, experiencing no-shows is a typical occurrence in many research studies. Some participants may not show up to their research appointment despite adopting various behavioural engagement strategies. In this article, we explore five strategies researchers can implement to reduce no-shows in research studies.

#1 Offer a valuable incentive

Contingency management or offering incentives for attending appointments can be a useful strategy for reducing no-show rates. Incentives can be a motivating factor for some participants to attend their scheduled research appointment. Consider offering bonus incentives to compensate for the participant's time and effort to participate in the study. 

While altruism may be a motivating factor for people to participate in research, some participants may experience transportation issues that can be a barrier for research participation. These barriers could include high travel costs and long travelling distance to the research venue. The inconvenience and cost associated with travelling could be potential reasons for no-shows in research studies.  Researchers could minimise these barriers by offering to compensate for their parking and travel costs. 

#2 Allow participants to pick the time slot

Give participants the option to pick a time slot that is most convenient for them. Adding more appointment slots with multiple time options can also be helpful. Provide them with the option to choose the time of day that is most suitable for them. Some participants might want to attend the appointment at a certain time of day to avoid peak hour traffic, or they might have other competing commitments. Allowing participants to choose the appointment time and date can be an effective strategy for reducing no-show rates.

#3 Try not to schedule appointments too far in advance

Try not to arrange the research appointment too far in advance. A long gap between the scheduling and the actual appointment time may increase the probability of forgetting about the appointment. Most people suggest scheduling between a few days to two weeks in advance to avoid any conflicting appointments.

#4 Send a clear communication email

After the participant has confirmed their appointment time, it is helpful to send a clear confirmation email to avoid any confusion. In the email, clearly outline:

  • The date and time of the research appointment

  • Directions to the location of the appointment, including a picture of the building and map

  • Parking or public transport instructions

  • The researcher's contact details

  • List of items to bring to the appointment (if required)

#5 Send appointment reminders

Life can get busy sometimes and it can be easy to lose track of things especially when you are handling multiple things at once. Sending appointment reminders can be helpful to remind the participant about their scheduled appointment.

Make reminder phone calls or send text messages with relevant details approximately a day before the scheduled appointment. If the appointment is scheduled more than a week in advance, it might be helpful to send more than one reminder (e.g., a week in advance and the day before) to allow enough time for the participant to plan before their appointment. 

If there is sufficient funding, some researchers have benefited from using automated appointment reminder systems. While automated appointment reminders usually come with a cost, it eliminates the researcher needing to enter the reminders manually. This means appointment reminders can be scheduled in advanced and sent automatically.