A qualitative study of staff perspectives of patient non-attendance in a regional primary healthcare setting.

Shahinoor Akter, Frances Doran, Catharine Avila, Susan Nancarrow


Non-attendance at health appointments reduces health service efficiency, is costly to services, and can risk patient health. Reminder systems are widely used to overcome forgetfulness, the most common reason for non-attendance; however, other factors, such as patient demographics and service accessibility, may also affect attendance rates.

There is limited primary research on the reasons for patient non-attendance in the Australian healthcare setting, although the success of preventative health initiatives requires ongoing monitoring of patients. This study aims to improve our understanding of the Australian experience by examining staff perspectives.

This qualitative study explored staff perspectives of the reasons for non-attendance in a large, regional general practice super clinic, which has a low socioeconomic catchment, and serves a large Aboriginal population.

The practical barriers to attendance of travel, cost, and waiting times had largely been overcome with transport provision, free medical care and responsive appointment times, but paradoxically, these were seen to devalue allocated appointments and reinforce the expectations of “on-demand” health care. For Aboriginal patients specifically, a distrust of authority, combined with poor health literacy was perceived to impact negatively on the uptake of diagnostic tests, filling of prescriptions, health monitoring, and adherence to medication.

The results suggest a complex interplay between poor health literacy and low patient self-worth; a funding system that encourages “5-minute medicine” without enabling doctors to get to the root cause of patient problems or having the ability to provide health education.
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