NHSmail users are being encouraged to use the system’s free text messaging to remind patients about healthcare appointments.

Contractors, Cable & Wireless’ head of frameworks, Ian Fowler, told E-Health Insider: “Since we launched the NHSmail service, we have seen the use of the SMS functionality grow. Currently we are seeing around 250,000 texts sent across the service per month, but we see the capabilities of this going much further.”

Staff on the NHSmail service can send a SMS to any UK telephone number by simply entering the telephone number into the ‘to’ field, using their NHSmail account.

Early use of the system has seen some trusts using it to send text messages to patients to act as reminders about outpatient appointments and also to bank nurses to inform them of shift availability.

Ian Mackenzie, director of performance, information and facilities at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospital (ASPH) NHS Trust, said: “The free SMS facility provided by NHSmail is a good way of communicating with people and the process is all automatic so takes staff no time at all to run. The scheme has been running since April and has so far sent about 5,700 texts, all of them for free.”

In ASPH, the trust has set up an automated system that uses information from their database (provided by their patient administration system) to find all outpatient appointments taking place within the following three days that have a mobile phone number on the record.

The system then uses Outlook to send a text message to the patient’s mobile phone via NHSmail. Currently the reminders are sent for appointments in the orthopaedics, paediatrics and pain clinics, but the trust plans to expand the scheme to all outpatient clinics that work on an appointments system.

In addition to the patient appointment reminders, ASPH have given all their secretarial staff an NHSmail account so that they can send text messages to consultants instead of leaving voicemail messages on their mobile phones.

Fowler says that Cable and Wireless now wants to work with more trusts to make them aware of this opportunity.

“Staff are probably aware of the SMS functionality on their e-mails but I suspect that trusts are unaware of the advantages that using the service free of charge could bring to them. We’d love to work with trusts and focus on initiatives that they could use the functionality for, free of charge. Research has shown that SMS messaging is one of the most effective ways of communicating with people in the 21st century.”

Together with Connecting for Health, Cable & Wireless are also in talks with the Department of Health to use the functionality as an asset to help make the 18 weeks referral to treatment process easier to monitor.

By sending patients a reminder text, they are less likely to miss their appointments. Referrals can be made within the 18 week time frame, with any cancelled appointments reallocated to other patients.

NHSmail is currently undergoing a technology refresh, transitioning from its existing Mirapoint platform to Microsoft Exchange 2007 and, once live, SMS functionality will still be available.

Fowler said: “The refresh continues to go well and on time. We have just finished the user requirement gathering phase, having received some user input, and also through our user experience survey, which was sent out in August. We asked what users would require from the transition to generate feedback.

“We have also held GP forums, met with user representatives on the programme board and kept a dedicated mailbox open to see what people want.”

“We are now heading into the high level design phase, to commence in November, which will include the use of SMS functionality, and this will then be subject to rigorous testing in America to ensure it is safe, secure and private,” Fowler added.



Cable and Wireless