The relatively recent use of text messaging within the medical profession allows practices and doctors to contact a large number of patients very quickly. It is a system most commonly used to inform patients of appointments with automated messages.
There is no implied consent to receive communications if a patient’s mobile number is on record – separate consent must be officially given. The consent must be updated regularly, as must the contact details. Mobile phones are often handed on to family members or friends, and this represents a significant confidentiality problem if not properly kept up-to-date.
There is an associated risk of informality with text message communication, as well as an implied familiarity between doctor and patient that may be easy to abuse or misread.
Doctors should inform their patients of the limits of the service, be it verbally, electronically, or through literature. They should also be given a leaflet or some accompanying information when they consent to receive text messages. Practices should also liaise with other organisations that have implemented similar systems and gain as much information as possible.
Any text messages are also considered to be part of the patient medical records, and should therefore be recorded in full, including the time and date of any correspondence. All responses from the patient should also be included – however, patients should be made aware that clinical queries are not suited to being send via text.
Practices should implement texting as part of a larger strategy and be prepared for patients to respond inappropriately to communications, often outside of opening hours.