Find it hard to remember doctor appointments? A Harvard study found that patients are apt to become more proactive in their health care when they receive information and reminders from their doctors.

The 15-month study observed 21,860 patients, ages 50 to 80, who were overdue for colon cancer screenings. While one group received the usual care, another received mailed, personalized letters with an outline of their history of colon cancer screening exams, information on colon cancer, a fecal occult blood test kit and instructions on scheduling a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. The result? Forty-four percent of patients in the second group received screenings, compared with 38 percent of those in the first group who didn’t receive reminders.

“We had a large group of people who needed to be screened for a very important condition. If we provided them with basic information about colon cancer and their need for screening, this approach was more effective than simply leaving it all up to the doctor,” said the study’s coauthor John Ayanian, a professor of medicine and health care policy at Harvard Medical School in Boston.