Hammersmith and Fulham PCT has piloted the use of text messaging to calculate patients’ body mass indexes (BMIs) and contact those who are classified as obese.

It intends to use the scheme across its 26 surgeries from this month.

The west London PCT sent out text messages to almost 1000 patients over the Christmas period, using the iPlato Patient Care Messaging software. It asked them to help update records by texting their weight and height measurements. The surgery would then use the data to calculate BMI scores and contact patients if they were classified as obese.

The pilot achieved a response rate of 29% and all the PCT’s GP practices will now begin to use the software to contact patients and update BMI readings on their system.

Mandy Norton, practice manager at the pilot site, the Bush Doctors in Shepherds Bush, said: “Text messaging has been a massive help, enabling us to gather a patient’s weight quickly in order to calculate their BMI. Of course we weigh people at the surgery, but this method allows us to quickly and very cost effectively update the records of people who may not need our services very often.

“With mobile being the communication method of choice for our very varied patient base and with obesity levels being where they are, we feel that this is a perfect complement to our current service.”

Hammersmith and Fulham PCT has been using the iPlato software for several months, initially for appointments management. Working with the provider, the trust will now use it to help meet Local Enhanced Service related targets, such as up-to-date BMI readings for every patient and knowing how many of its patient population smoke.

A PCT spokesperson told E-Health Insider Primary Care: “We introduced iPlato to help with appointments management, and also to help monitor and collect required data which a patient doesn’t need to go into the surgery to give. Using SMS technology like this reaches out to patients who do not see GPs very often, such as middle-aged gentlemen.

“The practice is required to collect this data on patients and this is ideal for obtaining it without them having to see a doctor or nurse. It improves the quality of data we have, and allows us to aid patients if they classify as obese or worse immediately – very useful for those who did not know this already.

iPlato say that the pilot campaign took less than one hour of a practice manager’s time, including searching for patients with old or no BMI readings, sending the text message, receiving replies and entering the results back onto the patient record.

The campaign will now target 100,000 patients, with the aim of meeting Hammersmith and Fulham PCT’s Local Enhanced Service for Cardio-Vascular Disease target, which requires a recent BMI reading for 40% of their patient population.

Jan Adamson, primary care development manager at the PCT, told EHIPC: “The pilot has shown that the project has had a very positive reaction from patients and no-one has complained with the use of text messaging.

“The main difficulty is a lot of patients change mobile numbers and forget to tell us, so our information quickly becomes outdated. We are now doing a lot of marketing to get patients to register their mobile number with us and consent to us texting them every now and then with information. It’s certainly faster and cheaper than using ordinary mail.”

iPlato managing director, Tobias Alpsten, told EHIPC: “Obesity is becoming more and more common, and we wanted to use our technology to help detect cases of this. Being able to obtain a patient’s current BMI reading in a fast and accurate way could play a significant role in the fight to reduce obesity levels nationwide – especially as it’s virtually impossible to get every patient into a surgery and weighed and measured.”