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09 March 2018
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Q. Some HSE referral forms ask the GP to collect the patient's mobile phone number and consent to send appointment reminders via SMS text. Is this OK?

A. The December 2017 edition of Forum has a great article by Diarmuid Quinlan that clarifies what practices need to do to ensure safe use of SMS text messages with patients. The article is well worth while reading and should form the basis for your practice policy on text messaging. When a HSE service sends out text messages it is making decisions such as who to send the message to and what the content of the message should be. The HSE is acting as a data controller for the text messaging and needs to be in a position to update patient mobile phone numbers and to update patient decisions on consent.

A GP who collects a patient's mobile number and asks for consent to send text messages is in a difficult position. They do not have the capacity to update the phone number if this changes and they do not have the capacity to change the patient consent status for receiving text messages, if this changes. So, the advice is that the HSE should collect the mobile phone number and patient consent when they first interact with the patient and should be responsible for managing this data and the messaging service. The management of text reminders and messages would be suitable for a national patient portal, where the patient could update consent, phone number and message preferences.