Headlines: February 2nd, 2006

Using mobile telephone text messaging to give patients the results of tests for Chlamydia speeds treatment times and saves staff costs, according to a six-month study. The results are published today in the journal, “Sexually Transmitted Infections.”A clinic at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London tried out a text messaging service for the results of sexual health screening, including tests for Chlamydia. The trial was begun on the grounds that that many of the clinic’s patients owned a mobile phone and that text messaging was a familiar activity. It is estimated that about 500 billion text messages are sent every year in the United Kingdom.

In the final month of the London study, more than a third of all test results were sent by text and in all 932 text messages were sent to patients who had been tested for Chlamydia. No information that could identify the patient and no diagnoses were sent in these messages, most of which read simply “All your results are negative.” In 122 cases the texts asked the patients to ring the clinic, and 49 patients were asked to return to the clinic.

The study shows that using text messaging the average number of days before the patient received a diagnosis was just under 8, compared with more than 11 for those getting results in person or over the phone. The time to treatment was also significantly shorter. For the text group it averaged 8.5 days compared with 15 days for the standard practice group.

The study also shows that providing the results of sexual health screens to patients traditionally took up 120 hours a month. Using the text messaging service saved 46 hours of staff time and more than 600 pounds in costs. The study’s authors conclude that text messaging service minimises the risks of “missed results,” and is often more acceptable for patients because not all of them have access to a landline.