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Outpatient non-attendance is a common source of inefficiency in a health service, wasting time and resources and potentially lengthening waiting lists. A prospective audit of plastic surgery outpatient clinics was conducted during the six months from January to June 1997, to determine the clinical and demographic profile of non-attenders. Of 6095 appointments 16% were not kept. Using the demographic information, we changed our follow-up guidelines to reflect risk factors for multiple non-attendances, and a self-referral clinic was introduced to replace routine follow-up for high risk non-attenders. After these changes, a second audit in the same six months of 1998 revealed a non-attendance rate of 11%--i.e. 30% lower than before. Many follow-up appointments are sent inappropriately to patients who do not want further attention. This study, indicating how risk factor analysis can identify a group of patients who are unlikely to attend again after one missed appointment, may be a useful model for the reduction of outpatient non-attendance in other specialties.