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The Message is Clear: mHealth Can Be Motivational

Recent studies have found that simple text messages from healthcare providers can convince patients to live healthier lives and take their prescriptions.

By Eric Wicklund

- The text message can be a powerful mHealth motivator.

Its use as a population health tool was recently proven in India, where a study that sent twice-weekly text messages to 1 million people found that health and wellness reminders could sway people at risk of developing diabetes.

“This shows the potential for even the most basic of mobile phones to be used as a viable tool to deliver public health messages on a large scale across a diverse population,” Angela Fidler Pfammatter, a research assistant professor in preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “And you just need a basic mobile phone. This can make an impact.”

The mDiabetes Study, conducted in a partnership with global health non-profit Arogya World and recently profiled in the Journal of Medicine and Internet Research, found that text messages reminding people to exercise more and eat better led to a roughly 40 percent improvement in health behaviors, compared to a control group.

“Noncommunicable diseases, one of the leading health and development challenges of the century, demand simple, proven, cost-effective prevention solutions that can be easily deployed at the population level,” Nalini Saligram, founder and CEO of Arogya World, said in the release. “Our mDiabetes study suggests mobile health technology is a smart solution and has broad implications for diabetes prevention at the population level in low and middle-income countries.” 

The mobile phone can also be used as a medication management tool, according to digital healthcare vendor Locent. In a Text Adherence Survey of 1,000 U.S. residents conducted with Google in June, one-third said they wouldn’t mind receiving a text message from their doctor reminding them to follow their prescriptions.

That’s a sharp increase from the 19 percent reported in a June 2015 survey of some 5,000 residents by the Council of Accountable Physician Practices and Nielson.

“Text-based communication is poised to surpass audio-based communication on phones in the healthcare space,” company officials said in a blog about the survey.

Among other findings in the Locent survey: Nearly 40 percent of those aged 18-24 are interested in receiving text messages, compared to 22 percent of those aged 55-64. More men (36 percent) than women (29 percent) were interested in text messages, and urban areas (36 percent) outranked suburban and rural areas (32 percent) in favoring texts.

“With only 50 percent of patients adhering to their treatment regimens for chronic conditions, SMS could present a silver bullet for improving patient adherence,” Locent officials said. “In fact, by addressing the readmission problem, better adherence could save $80 billion to $290 billion per year for healthcare providers.”

Earlier this year, researchers at the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, found that a patient with a chronic condition is twice as likely to adhere to medication protocols if reminded by text message. Those messages could be specific or even just a joke or an inspirational quote, as long as they were personalized.

"If text message-based support improves medical adherence, it has the potential to prevent major clinical events such as heart attacks, strokes and premature death," Clara Chow, lead author of the study and director of the cardiovascular division at the George Institute of Global Health and cardiologist at Australia’s Westmead Hospital, told CNN. 

Dig Deeper:

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