GP practices that communicate with patients via text message are being advised to ensure patients have "opted in" to the service.
Increasingly practices are looking at text messages as another way of communicating with patients. Uses include reminding patients about appointments, or to take medication, communicating test results, or checking on a patient's progress.
But the Medical Defence Union (MDU) says it is unwise to rely on patients' implied consent to allow the practice to communicate with them in this way. It is better to adopt a cautious approach and get the patient's express consent, the MDU advises.
Dr James Armstrong, MDU medicolegal adviser, said:
"While GPs may publicise a text message service to patients on the practice website, practice leaflet and through posters in the waiting room, many patients may still not be aware of the service.
"They might be surprised to receive a text message from the surgery if they had not given their specific consent and this could lead to a complaint, particularly if the unexpected message is somehow picked up by somebody else.
"For this reason, it's probably better to err on the side of caution and ensure patients give specific consent to be communicated with by text, so their confidential information can be protected, in line with General Medical Council (GMC) guidance.
"That way, the GP also has an opportunity to reassure the patient about the security arrangements in place and to ensure they have the correct mobile number to avoid the danger of confidentiality breaches."
The MDU issued the following advice to practices wishing to communicate with patients by text message:
See related MiP article: Textual healing: SMS patient messaging systems in surgeries