SMS or text messaging enables clinics to make contact with a patient or multiple patients quickly and efficiently. This can be useful for confirming appointments, sending test results, sending a broadcast to all patients booked on a certain day (in the event of an emergency), and so on.
SMS is familiar to most people and usually the most convenient for them.
Some practice management systems have SMS capability, and there are online appointment systems that automate SMS for recalls and reminders.
As with all technology, you will need to implement privacy controls, and have processes to mitigate risks. This list is from the RACGP's guide to Text Messaging in General Practice:
- Routinely confirm the patient’s mobile number(s) in their health record
- Record clearly in the patient record consent or refusal to receive text messages.
- For routine text messaging utilise a practice-dedicated mobile phone or web subscription.
- Recognise that text messaging by its nature may be perceived by some patients to be more informal than a phone call or letter from the practice.
- Recognise that using a personal mobile number to send messages may interfere with or compromise your personal life and privacy. Once a provider has broadcast their mobile number its subsequent dissemination cannot be controlled or restricted. Patients could pass it on to other patients of your clinic or to anyone else for that matter.
- Consider equity issues. Text messaging certain or select patients may result in disparities in health care delivery. It may be a disadvantage to patients who don’t have a mobile phone. Protocols regarding communications and information handling may need to take this into consideration.
- Avoid ‘text speak’ when text messaging patients, as a text message from a practice will be regarded to be a professional communication and can pose an issue if patients confuse the abbreviated text language and interpret it incorrectly. This may particularly apply to patients where English is a second language.
- View any text messages sent and received as part of the patient’s medical record. The fact that a text message was sent to a patient and its contents should be recorded in the patients’ health record, including the date and time the message was sent or received.