Peer-Reviewed Journal Details
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Leahy, D;Lyons, A;Dahm, M;Quinlan, D;Bradley, C
British Journal of General Practice
Use of text messaging in general practice: a mixed methods investigation on GPs' and patients' views
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Background Text messaging has become more prevalent in general practice as a tool with which to communicate with patients. Aim The main objectives were to assess the extent, growth, and perceived risks and benefits of text messaging by GPs to communicate with patients, and assess patients' attitudes towards receiving text messages from their GP. Design and setting A mixed methods study, using surveys, a review, and a focus group, was conducted in both urban and rural practices in the south-west of Ireland. Method A telephone survey of 389 GPs was conducted to ascertain the prevalence of text messaging. Subsequently, the following were also carried out: additional telephone surveys with 25 GPs who use text messaging and 26 GPs who do not, a written satisfaction survey given to 78 patients, a review of the electronic information systems of five practices, and a focus group with six GPs to ascertain attitudes towards text messaging. Results In total, 38% (n = 148) of the surveyed GPs used text messaging to communicate with patients and 62% (n = 241) did not. Time management was identified as the key advantage of text messaging among GPs who used it (80%; n = 20) and those who did not (50%; n = 13). Confidentiality was reported as the principal concern among both groups, at 32% (n = 8) and 69% (n = 18) respectively. Most patients (99%; n = 77) were happy to receive text messages from their GP. The GP focus group identified similar issues and benefits in terms of confidentiality and time management. Data were extracted from the IT systems of five consenting practices and the number of text messages sent during the period from January 2013 to March 2016 was generated. This increased by 40% per annum. Conclusion Collaborative efforts are required from relevant policymakers to address data protection and text messaging issues so that GPs can be provided with clear guidelines to protect patient confidentiality.
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