GP surgeries use SMS to advise patients on swine flu

GP Surgeries in Camden are successfully sending out text messages advising patients on what to do if they think they have swine flu.

The GP surgeries are some of the first to use text messaging as a way to help people deal with the swine flu pandemic. The iPLATO Patient Care Messaging service, which is being used by the surgeries to send out the swine flu related text messages, was originally funded by the PCT to improve efficiency and performance across a range of healthcare areas.

This use of the iPLATO platform to communicate swine flu specific information is a great way to use the text messaging channel, which has proved to be both a highly responsive and personal method of GP surgery-patient communication. Furthermore, the system allows information to be targeted to specific patient groups that most need it, allowing patients to text back a reply, arriving at the surgery as an email to a predefined email address.

The Camden surgeries sent out a text message advising patients on the best steps to take should they suspect that they or a family member might be showing the symptoms of swine flu. The messages were aimed at encouraging patients to phone a flu pandemic line first rather than call or visit their surgery. It also provided an opportunity to signpost patients to a relevant website to access further swine flu specific information.

The chief medical officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, has said that in the worst case scenario 30% of the UK population could be infected by the H1N1 virus, with 65,000 killed. By using every available communication channel to update patients on what to do if they think they have swine flu, healthcare provider organisations can potentially greatly decrease the impact of the swine flu pandemic.

Since sending out the message the Camden surgeries have had less swine flu patients coming into the surgery in person and more patients calling up instead as advised.

Sandra Anderson, senior administrator of the Rosslyn Hill Practice in NHS Camden said: “Since sending out the message it has eased pressure off our surgery. Patients are calling in and getting advice about swine flu instead of coming into the surgery in person. It’s important to contact patients by all means possible when it comes to a pandemic and we are very happy to have iPLATO Patient Care Messaging to help us do that. Since so many of our patients have mobiles, text messaging is the best way to contact them quickly.”
Jeff Mitchell, IT manager of the James Wigg Practice in NHS Camden said: “Using the text messaging service to reach 8,500 patients led to an immediate decrease in the volume of calls concerning swine flu and an increase the hits on our website where we provide Q&A for the patient. We know people are very concerned about swine flu and we want them to know what to do if they think they are infected. Many of our patients have mobile phones and text is a great way to send out a message instantly.”