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Recalls & Reminders – why is it so hard?

Why do so many practices have difficulty designing and using an effective recall and reminder system that doesn’t end up in an unworkable mess?

Make sure your practice system is designed with the following characteristics in mind and you will have a safer and more effective recall and reminder system:

Collaborate as a practice team and design one clear practice-wide system followed by all staff

Separate ‘recalls’ from ‘reminders’ to make your practice system more manageable:

Recalls = ‘clinically significant/probability of harm’ eg previous melanoma. We must proactively contact the patient until they return or the doctor advises otherwise.

Reminders = preventive health care eg flu vaccination.















Your system should be documented so that it is easy to communicate across your practice team, especially when new staff join the practice.

Read RACGP 5th edition standards Criterion GP2.2 – Follow-up systems















Your process should assign roles to staff members, so it is clear who carries out each step in the process, when each step is done and how it is documented in your clinical software. See our software-specific free resources and flowchart samples.














Design a reason list as a team which clearly identifies recalls vs reminders.


Does your list look like this?












Define your reason list as a practice, limit choices and when adding a new recall or reminder to a patient record, stick to choosing reasons from your agreed list.

Don’t allow free text recalls/reminders to be added to your system as this creates confusion and uncertainty as to how to deal with unclear entries. It can also worry the patients if unclear free text reasons appear on their sms message or letter.

Have a team meeting and ensure everyone understands the system, the follow-up process and expectations.

Make sure your system includes updating / completing the recall or reminder
















Failure to do this will result in confusion for patients (who may be recalled again unnecessarily), administrative staff (who are unsure of whether the recall is still valid) and other clinicians (who have to then search through patient notes to try to determine what is going on).

It will also be more difficult to pass accreditation if recalls are not removed and results are not marked as given in the clinical software.

Maintain a solid medico-legal audit trail, documenting any attempts to contact the patient

Many clinical software systems include auto-documentation when using recall features so that we can easily track as required. Remember, if it’s not documented, did it actually happen?


Consider the use of electronic notifications such as SMS

SMS contact can save significant time and money. Specific consent is required (read more). You may also like to consider the use of apps / 3rd party tools like HotDocs, HealthEngine, Automed, Healthsite etc to help automate your reminders. Know these tools can only be useful once you have cleaned up your existing active reminders and lists and you have agreed on your effective practice ‘system’.


Steps to clean up your existing recall / reminder system:


  1. Have a team meeting and design a new recall and reminder system that specifies who, what and when the process steps will be carried out.
  2. Train staff on how to use all features of your software relevant to recalls and reminders.
  3. Define your new recall and reminder reason list & update in your clinical software.
  4. Merge old (or duplicated) reasons with the newly created ones in your clinical software.
    Download MedicalDirector cheatsheet      |   Download Bp Premier cheatsheet 
  5. Review and action older outstanding recalls and reminders in patient records to complete / remove them.
  6. Monitor usage, review, re-evaluate and tweak your  ‘system’ to improve as necessary.


Managing Recalls and Reminders well is so important! It is also the number 1 topic we are ever asked to train.

View our latest MedicalDirector ‘Recalls & Reminders’ presentation
View our latest Bp Premier ‘Recalls & Reminders’ presentation

Let us help you sort through the complexity and help clean up for clarity, safety & efficiency.
Book an hour online with the Train IT Medical trainers


With best wishes

from Train IT Medical trainers Sue Cummins & Katrina Otto






Photo acknowledgements: Thank you to whoever created these blackboard photos we often use. They are still very relevant today. Thanks also to our practices for the very real recall list samples and for your commitment to ongoing improvements.
































































Photo credits: I am not sure who created these blackboard photos but they are fabulous and I thank my kindred spirit creator. The other images used are from practices and I thank them for engaging with us on quality and safety improvements. 

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