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a smartphone imageSeptember 29 2017

GPs should have better guidance over the use of text messaging for communicating with patients, a study has concluded. 

 A phone survey of 389 GPs found that 38% (n = 148) of those surveyed used text messaging to communicate with patients and 62% (n = 241) did not. “Time management was identified as the key advantage of text messaging among GPs who used it (80%; n = 20) and those who did not (50%; n = 13). Confidentiality was reported as the principal concern among both groups, at 32% (n = 8) and 69% (n = 18) respectively,” said the researchers.

The researchers also noted an increase in the use of text messaging of 40% per annum between 2013 and 2016 in five practices.

“Collaborative efforts are required from relevant policymakers to address data protection and text messaging issues so that GPs can be provided with clear guidelines to protect patient confidentiality,” said the researchers.

Commenting on the findings, RCGP Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard described text messages as “a straightforward technology that can be incredibly useful for GPs and our teams to communicate with patients on a wide range of issues.”

It was unsurprising that there has been such a marked increase in SMS usage for this purpose, she said. “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.”

Links:
D Leahy et al. ‘Use of text messaging in general practice: a mixed methods investigation on GPs’ and patients’. views. Br J Gen Pract 25 September 2017; bjgp17X693065.         
RCP comment                     

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