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Text messaging in healthcare study delivers decisive results

Text messaging in healthcare can be more than an administrative function and serve a greater purpose than being a new way to deliver appointment reminders to patients. Texting can nudge people to get on their feet and be more active, according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The study was divided into multiple sections and groups. Its most notable conclusion was that study participants that received inspirational and informative text messages walked approximately 2,500 more steps — or one-quarter of their expected daily total — than non-recipients.

During the first week of the five-week study of cardiology patients, researchers measured the baseline for participants’ daily activity. Patients were then split into separate groups for the following two weeks of the study: those that had complete access to their activity levels and progress through their smartphones and patients that didn’t. In weeks four and five — the final stage of the study — researchers took the group with access to their data and split it down the middle. One half of those patients received three daily text messages updating them on their progress and encouraging them to meet their daily 10,000-step target, while the others went without any texts.

In the last two weeks of the study, 44% of the groups with limited or no access to their activity levels met or exceeded the daily step mark. By comparison, that percentage was nearly doubled by the third group, as 81% of those that obtained texts walked 10,000 or more steps.

The cardiology study may add more evidence to the list of reasons why providers should use text messaging in healthcare. Texting is already established as a way to alert patients of new appointments and keep them in touch with their physicians about their conditions and treatment plans. There are still situations in which healthcare providers won’t risk texting, and most of them involve protected health information (PHI). It’s hazardous to text PHI because the devices usually making those transmissions are challenging to protect, both from physical theft and device hacks.