Apparently the very first text message was sent on 25 December 1992 and simply said “merry Christmas”. From that humble beginning, roughly 23 billion text messages are now sent every year!
Many of us will be now used to getting important reminders by text message. For example, my GP surgery and dentist already text me appointment reminders. And my children's schools let me know news by text.
There is increasing evidence that text messages in the NHS are a low-cost way to minimise the number of missed appointments. About 1 in 10 outpatient appointments are missed in England. A study in 2016 found that text messages could reduce missed appointments by a huge 23%.
A rapid review of interventions to improve participation in cancer screening services found that interventions which most consistently improved participation in cancer screening, including in underserved populations, were pre-screening reminders such as text messages. So implementing such reminders could have a big impact on reducing screening inequalities.
National principles for screening reminders
We know there’s already huge interest from screening providers for using text reminders.
Back in July we published a blog about how GP-endorsed text reminders are helping to increase cervical screening attendance in London.
The 2020 to 2021 screening service specifications will also encourage providers to start thinking how to incorporate text reminders into their services.
To support this, Public Health England (PHE) is doing some work to produce national principles on effective use of text reminders. We hope this will cover things like:
- the best wording to use in the messages
- when the messages should be sent for maximum impact
- how to ensure text messages do not become irritating or coercive
- the information governance implications
- case studies of effective use of text messages
At the moment the work will be focused just on screening appointment reminders. The issues around moving from letters to text messages for initial screening invitations is more complex and we'll look at that as a separate piece of work (linked to our project around moving to digital screening information).
If you're already using text reminders
If you’re a screening service that is already using text message reminders, we want to hear from you!
Please respond to the helpdesk by the end of January 2020 to give us brief details of:
- which screening programmes(s) you are using text messages with
- the wording used in the messages
- when the messages are being sent
- any findings or case studies in terms of impact on uptake or user satisfaction
- any impact text messaging has had on reducing inequalities
- your top tips in terms of effective use of text messages
We’ll then work with a number of experts in this field to develop a set of national principles.
PHE Screening blogs provide up to date news from all NHS screening programmes. You can register to receive updates direct to your inbox, so there’s no need to keep checking for new blogs. If you have any questions about this blog article, or about population screening in England, please contact the PHE screening helpdesk.