Acceptability of text messages for safety netting patients with low-risk cancer symptoms: a qualitative study

Hirst, Yasemin orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0167-9428 and Lim, Anita Wey Wey (2018) Acceptability of text messages for safety netting patients with low-risk cancer symptoms: a qualitative study. British Journal of General Practice, 68 (670). e333-e341. ISSN 0960-1643

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Background Safety netting is an important diagnostic strategy for patients presenting to primary care with potential (low-risk) cancer symptoms. Typically, this involves asking patients to return if symptoms persist. However, this relies on patients re-appraising their symptoms and making follow-up appointments, which could contribute to delays in diagnosis. Text messaging is increasingly used in primary care to communicate with patients, and could be used to improve safety netting.

Aim To explore the acceptability and feasibility of using text messages to safety net patients presenting with low-risk cancer symptoms in GP primary care (txt-netting).

Design and setting Qualitative focus group and interview study with London-based GPs.

Method Participants were identified using convenience sampling methods. Five focus groups and two interviews were conducted with 22 GPs between August and December 2016. Sessions were audiorecorded, transcribed verbatim, and analysed using thematic analysis.

Results GPs were amenable to the concept of using text messages in cancer safety netting, identifying it as an additional tool that could help manage patients and promote symptom awareness. There was wide variation in GP preferences for text message content, and a number of important potential barriers to txt-netting were identified. Concerns were raised about the difficulties of conveying complex safety netting advice within the constraints of a text message, and about confidentiality, widening inequalities, and workload implications.

Conclusion Text messages were perceived to be an acceptable potential strategy for safety netting patients with low-risk cancer symptoms. Further work is needed to ensure it is cost-effective, user friendly, confidential, and acceptable to patients.

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