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GPs told to ‘opt in’ patients to text message reminders

GPs are leaving themselves open to confidentiality risks by not obtaining patients' consent before sending them text messages, medical defence experts have cautioned.

In a discussion on managing practice risks at the NAPC conference in Birminingham, Julie Wilson, clinical risk programme manager at the Medical Protection Society, said GPs should not be contacting patients to remind them of appointments or advise them without receiving explicit consent first due to confidentiality issues.

'Some practices we go to, we find they are texting their patients but they haven't obtained consent to do so. You must ensure you've actually got the patient's consent before you do this,' Ms Wilson said.

She cited an example of a practice with a policy that if a child was under sixteen, texts would not be sent to them but to be their parents, which she said could raise issues of confidentiaility if, for example, a child aged 14 wanted to see their GP without their parents knowing.

Responding to a question from the floor about whether offering patients an opt-out option in text messages was sufficient, Ms Wilson warned GPs that this may not be enough to ensure adequate confidentiality.

She said: 'Ideally, you should ask each patient when they come in if it would be ok to text them. Just because they are not opting out of it does not mean they are giving you their consent.'

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