In March 2020, the growing COVID-19 case numbers prompted the Bendigo Cancer Centre (BCC) develop specific information on symptom management, treatment and risk. An information letter and guideline was created. Historically BCC provides patient information by letter, during face to face appointments and through the website. As letters from Bendigo to regional patients can take over a week to arrive, the a text message was sent to the 1080 patients with a mobile number on file:
“For important information about COVID-19 and your cancer treatment visit https://www.bendigohealth.org.au/COVID19Cancer/ Or call 54548383 to request in writing.”
As a result the page recorded 959 unique views, while 103 patients contacted the telephone number to request additional information. Data about the characteristics of the patients who called compared to the ones that did not showed patient gender were evenly distributed in both groups and showed no significance (p value=0.416). Age showed a Q1, Median, Q3 of patients who “did not” as 51, 62, 70 and those who “did” 61, 72, 77. It was found to be statistically significant that age of the patient is related to the response to the hotline (p value=<0.005) with the probability of a call to increase by age. There was no correlation between patient residential location and contacting the hotline. Staff working on the hotline did report that some patients who called were confused about the message, for example asking about appointments that were booked in advance.
This analysis could suggest that use of text messages to deploy messages to patients should be considered, however older patients may find this more difficult than younger patients and potentially texts should supplement rather than replace letters. A telephone line should be available.