Intended for healthcare professionals

Practice Practice Pointer

Mobile messaging with patients

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m884 (Published 16 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m884
  1. Laura Martinengo, PhD student in digital health1,
  2. Pier Spinazze, research associate in AI in healthcare1 2,
  3. Josip Car, director, reader in primary care and eHealth1 2
  1. 1Centre for Population Health Sciences (CePHaS), Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  2. 2Global Digital Health Unit, Department of Primary Care and Public Health, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, UK
  1. Correspondence to J Car josip.car{at}ntu.edu.sg

What you need to know

  • Mobile messaging has the potential to support clinical practice and should be offered as an optional service

  • Before engaging in mobile messaging with your patients, develop a policy that includes the scope of communication, roles, and expected response time

  • Offer other communication channels to patients who choose to opt out of mobile messaging

  • Document all communications in patients’ electronic health records

  • Engage a mobile messaging provider compliant with your country’s data protection laws

Communication has been transformed by the mobile phone. Today, mobile messaging is widely used across all age groups,12 exceeding voice calls in people under 50.3 Healthcare providers worldwide are increasingly adopting digital integrated management systems that include messaging functions. This practice pointer offers an overview of mobile messaging to communicate with patients and carers, and offers suggestions for how to introduce these systems.

Why mobile messaging?

Mobile messaging includes all forms of electronic communication that may be accessed on a mobile device (table 1). The public views mobile messaging as more convenient, time efficient, less intrusive, and less costly than voice calls.4 Sixty nine per cent of consumers across all age groups want to be able to contact a business via text,5 with several industries leading adoption of text messaging services with consumers, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, and travel.6 Within healthcare, patients generally see it as a useful addition to face-to-face encounters.78910 Meanwhile, doctors are also using digital communication channels, particularly for inter-professional communication.11

View this table:
Table 1

Types of mobile messaging

There is ongoing debate about whether mobile messaging in healthcare may widen health inequalities.1213 However, proponents see mobile messaging as an addition to existing ways of accessing healthcare, not a replacement. A 2017 study reported that nearly 40% of the UK GP practices used text messaging to communicate …

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