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Text/SMS Messaging Patients
Text or SMS messaging allows practices to contact large numbers of patients within a small time frame. It has been shown to significantly cut Do Not Attend (DNA) rates when used to inform patients of their appointments, but can have other uses including asking patients to book appointments, to take medication or inform them of their results.
However advice from both the MDU and MPS is that you must not assume that because you hold a patient’s mobile telephone number as part of their clinical record that you can just use it to send texts to them. Data Protection legislation requires you to inform individuals how you use their data and it is key that to use a mobile number to send texts, that you inform patients of this.
To be able to use mobile numbers to send texts, then you must ensure patients are aware of this and if they have any concerns they can raise them. You should use posters, waiting room screens, leaflets and the practice website to get the message across to patients.
Both medical defence organisations recommend obtaining express consent from patients and to clearly record their preferences for communication in the notes. This is perfectly acceptable, but may be considered unnecessary if you are openly publicising your approach to patients.
It is also important to keep records up to date as many people change their numbers frequently and are known to share their old mobiles widely. Patients should be advised on the importance of advising the surgery of any changes to their contact details.
We would recommend that specific messages are used on waiting room screens, noticeboards and reception desks to remind patients to keep you up to date with these details and promote that you will use texts for administration purposes unless they ask you not to.
Further advice concludes that text messaging is a professional communication and be included as part of the patient’s clinical record. This will probably include the date and time of the transmission, the content of the message and any details included in a reply. However it is not thought to be an appropriate way of dealing with clinical queries.
Text messaging can be a valuable tool for communicating with patients, but needs to be used cautiously and as part of a wider patient communication strategy.
11-15 year olds
Handling mobile contact numbers particularly when dealing with children between the ages of 11-15 can be problematic.
The LMC view is that children aged 11-15 should not be sent text reminders for appointments etc, in order to avoid the possibility of a parent using their own mobile number as a contact for the young person.
Where Gillick Compentency has been assessed, discuss this with the young person and they may agree to let you have their own personal mobile number but you would need to check that it is indeed personal only to them. You should in these circumstance record this information.
The GMC has guidance on this on their website about confidentiality in 0-18yrs of age available at:
NHS SMS Messaging
As you will be aware, the Department of Health has decided that NHS mail is too costly and have decided to terminate it. The GPC has objected to this as it is seen as a retrograde step and, as a result, NHS mail faxing ceased at the end of March 2015, and SMS messaging ceased in September 2015. However CCGs were asked to put in place arrangements for SMS messaging in Primary Care post September 2015.
The clinical system suppliers do offer an SMS texting service details of which are below: - contact system suppliers
EMIS Web: https://www.emishealth.com/home/
Vision inps: http://www.inps4.co.uk/vision/partners/pcm
TPP systm one: Offers a free messaging service via NHS net