Using SMS as a tool to help patients


Image via Wikipedia


Week 2011



of  SMS

by Claire Hallas


As a contribution to Patient Week, Claire Hallas posted this article about using SMS for Patients’ benefit:


Text message or SMS (short message service)  interventions can improve adherence and disease management across a number of illnesses

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology  shows that text message (SMS) interventions targeting people’s beliefs significantly improve adherence to asthma medication and have the potential to improve adherence and disease management across a number of illnesses.

The study further confirms the value of SMS as a communications channel and suggests that other digital channels have a growing part to play in delivering successful interventions.

SMS is relatively inexpensive and increasingly available to a broad cross-section of the community.

This study shows the potential benefits of using SMS not just as a passive device to deliver a generic reminder, but as a way to actively engage with individual patients and drive behavioral change.

As other forms of communication, such as smartphones, move into the mainstream, it is fair to assume we will be able to take greater advantage of their potential to deliver targeted interventions and ultimately better patient health outcomes.

The study was initiated to address the common issue of non-adherence to preventative asthma medication.

The research concluded that if targeted SMS messages are used to communicate with asthma patients, adherent behavior will increase for the long term.

Even nine months after the SMS messages ceased, the majority of people who took part in this were found to have continued adherence.

This study targeted five illness perceptions: short timeline (no symptoms = no asthma), low personal control, low symptoms, high symptoms, and poor understanding; and two medication beliefs: low necessity and high concerns.

What happened

A bank of 166 messages designed to counter these seven beliefs, all of which had previously been found to be associated with non-adherence to preventer medication, was prepared ahead of the study.

Participants received tailored SMS messages based on their responses to a questionnaire assessing their individual illness perceptions.

The report found that those study participants receiving the text messages had an increased perception of their asthma as a chronic condition, the degree of personal control they had over their asthma, and their need for preventer medication.

As these findings would imply, the intervention group also recorded adherence rates around 10 percent higher than the control group and a significantly higher achievement of 80 percent-plus adherence levels.

What’s in it for cancer patients?

First thing that springs to mind is that those on weekly rather than daily doses of a drug could be sent a reminder every week – saving having to write rewminders into the diary.

Then reminders re annual mammograms – check-ups, etc. could be sent.

Am sure readers can think of many other uses.


Claire Hallas is a health psychology specialist with Atlantis Healthcare.


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