Text messaging allows healthcare providers to target and contact hundreds of patients within minutes, reaching them wherever they may be in their daily lives. This basic technology can simplify administrative tasks too, reducing costs and improving organisational efficiency. More immediate than traditional postal contact – and paper-saving too – SMS gives professionals the ability to target specific groups in one fell swoop or just individual patients when necessary. What’s more, it can be used effectively in a variety of different contexts.

Text reminders for surgeries and hospitals

An increasing number of surgeries and hospitals are signing up for text message services, simply because they make it easy to send reminders to patients. Each year, a huge amount of time is wasted because patients fail to attend their appointments; this issue actually costs the NHS millions of pounds. Text messaging is an easy and hassle-free solution to this issue, as patients can receive reminders confidentially and efficiently.

SMS services also allow patients to respond with automatically recognised phrases and words, giving them the chance to confirm their attendance. This option to change, accept or receive new dates by way of quick and simple messages has already led to a 20 per cent decline in ‘do not attend’ (DNA) rates at Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Another clever initiative trialled by the same hospitals allows the smart use of data to notify waiting patients of last-minute cancellations, meaning vacated appointments can be filled quickly.

SMS – more than just appointment reminders

Reminders aren’t just limited to appointment times and changes. For example, messages could be sent to patients using contraceptive pills, ensuring they can pick up new prescriptions before their current supplies run out. For many people, especially youngsters, this is a sensitive subject, and SMS provides the personal touch needed. The NHS has already trialled several services of this kind, including one which allows the subscriber to choose the wording of the messages they receive.

It’s also becoming more common to have test results delivered by SMS, with the option being given to an increasing number of test patients. In an all-clear situation, the results can be sent directly along with a message stating that no further action is needed. This helps to save both time and admin resources.

Mental health assistance using mobile phones

A study by the Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia found that text messages between therapists and mental health patients can enhance support and improve outcomes. Participants who received text messages from their therapists were found to need fewer sessions as they felt a sense of being supported, even when they weren’t physically present in their usual healthcare facilities.

Similarly, a campaign by UK mental health charity Time to Change heavily promoted the benefits of text messages from friends and loved ones. Its #TimeToTalk campaign runs with the line: “That call. That walk. That text. It’s the little things that make a big difference.”

Comparable results can be achieved by healthcare professionals too. It’s possible for providers to help their patients retain a feeling of independence by taking a step back, using texts when face-to-face meetings aren’t completely necessary.

Text messages reminding patients to take their medication at designated times and gentle hints about upcoming psychiatric appointments may seem like small touches but they can be massively useful for those living with mental confusion. These techniques can also be hugely beneficial for clinics which have to deal with missed appointments due to forgetfulness.

Wellbeing – how patients respond to text messages

The annual ‘Stoptober’ campaign, run by the UK government and backed by a number of famous faces, aims to encourage smokers to quit for good. Participants are offered regular support to help them kick their habits – this includes daily updates and tips for coping, all of which are sent by text. Applying the same techniques to those who need help with other lifestyle problems makes perfect sense.

The country’s obesity problems, for example, could be eased with the help of SMS-based wellbeing plans. People could be sent exercise tips and handy nutritional information, reminding them how important it is to stay active and healthy. This kind of support wouldn’t be as effective if sent via email or post, nor would it be convenient. The personal touch that a text message provides, however, is perfect.

Patients respond well to SMS because it’s immediate, personable and more efficient than other communication channels. With this in mind, there’s huge potential when it comes to cost-saving and reach – too much for healthcare providers to ignore.

SMS can offer fantastic convenience and flexibility for patients, admin staff and doctors alike. While it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t be seen as a direct substitute for other forms of care, it can certainly complement them to great effect.

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