Ealing Primary Care Trust has launched a mobile phone text message appointment reminder service for 130,000 patients attending 22 of its surgeries.

The technology behind the service is being provided using the Patient Care Messaging (PCM) application supplied by mobile healthcare applications specialist iPlato. The company already provides a range of text appointment reminder services to several other primary care trusts in England.

According to iPlato its PCM system will help Ealing PCT deliver care more efficiently and effectively. Patients at 22 surgeries in Ealing will soon receive appointments, reminders and health information via mobile phone text messages.

An iPlato spokesperson told E-Health Insider Primary Care: “We have developed PCM in close partnership with several NHS Trusts. PCM contributes to increasing the quality of service provided to patients and has proven to be the best method for communicating with the socially excluded and minorities.”

The system works by integrating with any clinical and patient administration system and sends texts messages at a pre-defined time to the patient. iPlato says it is a tried and tested best practice for permission management, patient confidentiality and service integrity.

iPlato allows feedback from patients to be automatically directed to the relevant doctor/nurse, allows for the creation and sending of manual text-messages to individual and groups of patients (flu-jabs reminders, etc.) and is accessed and administered through an easy-to-use web interface.

iPlato says PCM is both secure and the only text messaging service located on the NHSnet, available to any authorised member of staff on their desktops.

Ealing PCT chief service development manager, Keith Martin, said: “Mobile patient services have proven that they are cost effective and scalable and are, therefore, the way forward in Ealing. We have a diverse population of 360,000 patients registered with GPs in the borough.”

The decision to install the mobile technology came after the PCT was prompted by requests from patients and feedback from two pilot projects in Perivale and Northolt.


Ealing PCT and iPlato say this is the largest project of its type in primary care in Britain to date, and nine other surgeries within the trust may join in with the scheme in the future.

Martin added: “Ealing PCT chose iPlato for its long experience in UK primary care. PCM is functional and secure. It improves services without adding extra work for healthcare staff and integrates seamlessly with existing systems used by GPs to book appointments and clinics.”

Work began on implementing the iPlato system last month and it has now gone live in approximately 15 of the surgeries, with the remainder finalising arrangements to use the system.

Patients will be told about the system using a variety of marketing techniques and can unsubscribe from the service by letting surgery staff know or replying to a message. Surgeries can use the proof of sending texts out to help them prove to the Department of Health that they have met their QUOF objectives.

The automated system will reduce the time spent on contacting patients, enabling staff to concentrate on providing better services to patients.

iPlato managing director, Tobias Alpsten, said: “Ealing Primary Care Trust’s drive to use technology as a means of improving patient care has clearly been illustrated by the ambitious rollout of PCM. In a cosmopolitan borough such as Ealing our technology, with the support of the PCT, has shown it has the ability to deliver radical improvements to cost efficiency and quality of care across patient demographics.”

The iPlato technology will be delivered by mobile phone provider Orange, whose business customer development director, Neil Laidler added: “None of us actually want to miss an appointment we went to the trouble of booking at the doctor and text messaging provides an easy and timely route for sending a useful reminder.”

One of the pilot sites, the Hillview Surgery in Perivale said that iPlato has led to a 30% drop in the number of patients, who miss appointments. Imperial College in London estimates that text appointments alone could save the NHS £240m to £380m.

Martin added: “Most of our patients already use mobile phones so it made sense to the PCT and the surgeries involved to go down this route.”