A Heart Foundation pilot program that sent out 42,000 text messages to eligible patients resulted in a 14-fold increase in check-ups with GPs.
A simple text message has shown it could be key to improving Australia’s heart health – and may already be saving lives.
The reminder messages, sent as part of a Heart Foundation pilot program, have been hailed a success by both patients and healthcare professionals, after they led to a significant increase in bookings for Heart Health Checks (HHC).
Published in the Australian Journal of General Practice, the program enlisted the help of more than 200 GP clinics from across Australia.
From those selected clinics, 41,586 eligible participants received this SMS:
‘Hi [name], your doctor at [practice] would like to see you for a short Heart Health Check. Your age and other factors may raise your chance of a heart attack or stroke. Please call [practice number] to book. To learn more, visit [landing page link]. Reply STOP to opt out.’
Eligible patients were those aged 45–74 years of age, who did not already live with cardiovascular disease, and had not had a health assessment or HHC in the previous 12 months.
Appointments booked as a result of the SMS recall were completed and billed as per the practice’s usual billing procedures.
The targeted cardiovascular disease screening trial was the largest of its kind in Australian general practice history and resulted in control practices seeing a 14-fold increase in HHCs.
‘Our data suggest that this was not simply a diversion of general health checks to a different Medicare Benefits Schedule item but a real increase in screening,’ researchers concluded.
RACGP Fellow and New South Wales GP Dr Raya Grishina-Gunn took part in the pilot program and told newsGP the patient response was better than expected.
‘We had a lot of people who would come in and said “my mother had a check; I want one as well. I’m not a patient, but I want one”,’ she said.
‘It’s interesting because after the program finished, the next day we had a patient call and complain that she didn’t get a message. Everyone wants a message.
‘It’s a much better investment, a little bit of money and it’s a much better system. Most people have a smartphone now and … a lot of people respond better to that.’
One practice manager said, ‘the phone went crazy directly after the SMS messages went out’.
‘Patients were excited about being called in about their heart health and wanted to book in as soon as possible,’ they said.
‘We did three days a week 8 am to 5 pm. Most days it was fully booked. We were fully booked for three months, a huge success.’
Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 26% of all deaths in Australia, while an average of 1619 people are hospitalised with symptoms every day.
Around $5 billion is spent on providing healthcare services to admitted patients with cardiovascular disease each year, accounting for more than 11% of total admitted health expenditure.
International cardiovascular disease screening programs have already been rolled out in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Dr Grishina-Gunn said she would like to see the trial progressed in Australia.
‘In my practice we have quite a lot of people over the age of 65 and I think this would save people from being on medications or having an open-heart surgery,’ she said.
‘I had a number of people that actually ended up having to have stents after their checks.
‘The consequences are so severe if we miss it, so we definitely need this.’
The pilot’s findings are already being used to run a more complex implementation trial, which is currently underway.
The aim of the follow-up study is to replicate the pilot’s results in higher-risk areas and with patients who had less recent engagement with preventive cardiac health services.
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