Technology experts say texting can improve adherence to care protocols
Residents of Mohave County, Ariz., who are trying to give up cigarettes can take advantage of a new smoking cessation text messaging service offered by the County’s Department of Public Health.
STOMP (for STop smoking Over Mobile Phone) sends enrollees a series of personalized text messages over 26 weeks. The service uses messages based on a clinically developed program with proven medical efficacy and offers several interactive features.
“We’re using the phone to connect with people; not just to remind them, but to engage them to execute some of their care plan tasks,” says Debbi Gillotti, CEO of Healthphone Solutions, the company that licenses STOMP. Clinical trials show smoking cessation rates doubled, to 28 percent, for STOMP users.
Text messaging is emerging elsewhere in health care. Applications range from reminders to take medications to weight control management to information about HIV testing. Last fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a mobile-ready version of its Web content that includes hurricane recovery and flu information.
“Our texting strategy is to deliver CDC’s information tools and services when, where and how people want them,” says Erin Edgerton, of the CDC’s e-marketing division.
Text messaging is becoming popular because of its simplicity and ubiquity, says Mark Horne, vice president of marketing at Premiere Global Services, an Atlanta technology company offering texting services to the health care market.
Generally, texting is available where the Internet is not. As of 2007, 81 percent of all U.S. households had at least one computer, but only about half of households with annual incomes under $30,000 had one, and less than half of those were online. More than 250 million Americans, however, have cell phones, and almost all cell phones are text-enabled.
“Texting for health care is still in its infancy in the U.S., but it is clear that this technology will increase in popularity as a means for providers to reach, prompt or inform patients, and for patients to query providers on health-related issues,” says Kevin Patrick, M.D., of the department of family and preventive medicine, University of California, San Diego, which is developing texting applications aimed at kids at risk for diabetes and at schizophrenics to help with mood and medication management.
But cost is an obstacle. Cell phone companies generally charge users for incoming texts. “It would nice if carriers waived fees for health care-related messages, but it has not worked that way,” Horne says.
This article first appeared in the April 2009 issue of H&HN magazine.