Text messaging is one of the most effective ways of encouraging patients to use online services. It also helps to reduce the number of phone calls that a practice may receive.

This guidance is designed to help GP practices to:

  • keep patients up-to-date with new ways of working
  • encourage uptake of online services for patients
  • communicate with patients quickly and easily

Uses of text messaging

Text messages can be useful in a number of ways, including (but not exclusively):

  • reminding patients about appointments (telephone, online or face-to-face)
  • sending out important information e.g. about new ways of working during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • checking on symptoms and disease progress
  • notifying patients that medication is ready to collect

How can I get access to SMS messaging services?

  • If your CCG is one that has had a volume based contract for text messaging services, any additional costs associated with the COVID-19 outbreak will be reimbursed. You should not therefore face any restriction on the number of texts you can send. Contact your CCG for more information.
  • NHS organisations can also get 25,000 free text messages a year with GOV.UK Notify service. Click here to create an account and watch a video.
  • Practices can also use text messaging services from a number of commercial providers. Many of these systems integrate with major clinical systems. They can be purchased by your local CCG or practice, dependent upon contract specifications. You can find out more about integration with text messaging services by visiting the suppliers’ websites.

COVID-19 and text messaging services

During the Coronavirus pandemic, the NHS will send out text messages to people with symptoms of COVID-19. You can find out more about what the NHS is doing here.

The benefits of SMS text messaging

It is essential that practices use an effective method for reminding patients about appointments and online services and new ways of working. Text messaging:

  • is cost-effective
  • is time-effective
  • supports simplified communications
  • reduces DNAs
  • is environment-friendly

Text messaging services also promote the use of online services, as well as the use of a total triaging model and online and video consultations.

Standard text messaging templates can be created for various scenarios. These are usually coded and provided via service providers.


Summary

Do

  • make sure each patient is happy to receive text messages
  • be clear who is sending the message
  • use simple language and avoid acronyms
  • make instructions clear with options for the patient to raise any queries
  • check that all links to information and surveys work
  • create a test environment for your text messaging before sending any group mailings out
  • make use of NHS links and resources for simplification

Don't

  • do not accidently disclose confidential information to the patient
  • do not send long messages
  • do not use complicated language

External Resources

Date Published Article Format Author(s)
GOV.UK Gov.uk Notify applications Guidance GOV.UK Notify
23 March 2020 NHS Digital COVID-19 texts for vulnerable people Blog NHS Digital
13 March 2020 NHS Digital Tell your patients about the NHS App by text Guidance NHS Digital
13 April 2020 Youtube AccuRx Setting up the toolbar and text messaging Video Dr Osman Bhatti

Page last reviewed: 3 April 2020
Next review due: 3 July 2020
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