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iPLATO: Text messages that are good for you

Always forget to see your GP when you've made an appointment? A new service means your doctor might be able to automatically text you a reminder

There's nothing worse than feeling really ill, making an appointment to see your doctor and then completely forgetting about it, and having to wait until next week. Or worse still, if you're a parent and you forget to take your child to have their booster jabs.

Fortunately, some clever boffins at a company called iPLATO have developed a system that specifically enables GPs to send text messages to their patients. iPLATO's patient-texting system is currently used in over 100 surgeries across England and is proving a considerable success.

The Lewisham Primary Care Trust recently used the system to send out text messages to parents with children overdue for a specific immunisation jab and the results were very positive, with many parents booking appointments faster than when they were contacted via letters.

The iPLATO system is integrated with the surgery's administration system and allows GPs to search for specific patients' details and then send one or many patients a specific request or update. The system is completely secure and information is encrypted so that patients' details are kept safe.

GPs are also instructed not to use sensitive information in their text messages, as this might cause problems for the patient. If, for example, you're suffering from an embarrassing illness, the GP will not refer to it in the message, therefore avoiding anyone else seeing it on your mobile phone.

The system has seen a 30 to 60 per cent increase in patient attendance and better still can be adapted for a variety of tasks. One useful service that it could provide in conjunction with the smoking ban, for example, is by informing smokers of services on offer at their local GP to help them quit. By selecting only smokers from their database, this provides a very cost-effective way of targeting the right people.

An interesting feature currently in development is a prescription-renewal service that updates both the patient and GP that a medication review is required. It certainly makes a change from the usual idiotic tech health scares. -Andrew Lim