Text messaging in general practice useful but not without risks

A STUDY of UK GPs found that 38 per cent now use texting to communicate with patients.

An article by researchers published in the British Journal of General Practice reported on a telephone survey of 389 GPs to ascertain the prevalence of text messaging. This was followed by additional telephone surveys with 25 GPs who use text messaging and 26 who do not, and a written satisfaction survey given to 78 patients.

Time management was identified as the key advantage of text messaging among the 80 per cent GPs who used it, and confidentiality was reported as the principal concern among 69 per cent of the GPs who did not use texting. Most patients (99 per cent) were happy to receive text messages from their GP.

Data extracted from the IT systems of five consenting practices revealed that the number of text messages sent during the period from January 2013 to March 2016 increased by 40 per cent per annum.

Responding to findings, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Text messages are a straightforward technology that can be incredibly useful… They are a cheap and convenient way to get important messages to patients and one area that we have seen particular benefit is in reducing missed appointments through sending out text reminders.

"However, we recognise the potential security limitations of texting especially to people who share their phones and GP practices will only send text messages to patients if they have given us permission to communicate with them in this way. In the main, we find our patients welcome this approach.

"If we need to get in touch with patients with sensitive information, such as test results that need further follow up, we would prefer to do this face to face or over the phone – but a text message can still be a useful prompt for a patient to contact the surgery to arrange this."