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By extrapolating the Cork figures nationally, the study authors believe that one million texts are sent by GPs to patients annually nationwide.
The Use of Texting in Irish General Practice was presented at the recent EQuiP/ICGP European Patient Safety Conference in Dublin.
Speaking to the Medical Independent (MI), one of the study authors, Cork GP Dr Aoife Lyons, said that 38 per cent of all 389 Cork GPs use text messaging to communicate with patients.
Initially, practices were asked if they used text messaging or not via a phone survey. Following on from this, 30 texting GPs and 30 non-texting GPs were asked a series of more detailed questions.
A patient satisfaction survey and a focus group were also undertaken. Five consenting practices also allowed some 600 text messages to be examined.
“The predominant theme was that clinical information was being sent in these texts,” Dr Lyons said.
The results show that time saving was the biggest advantage amongst texters (80 per cent) and non-texters (50 per cent).
A potential breach of confidentiality was the biggest disadvantage amongst both groups at 32 per cent and 69 per cent respectively.
Some 53 per cent of non-texters suggested they would use texting if the ICGP or their medical indemnifier endorsed it.
The patient satisfaction survey revealed that 99 per cent of patients were happy to receive texts from their GP.
The authors noted that the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner suggests that texts should be limited to appointment reminders and general announcements only.
There are no guidelines on texting and the Medical Council does not have a specific policy around texting services.
The authors concluded that “texting can assist in time management for GPs and provide patients with fast test results”.
However, they said GPs need more support if they are to communicate safely, and clear guidelines for GPs to protect patient confidentiality are required.