Chronic ailments are a critical health issue in the United States - from diabetes to asthma, millions of Americans suffer from chronic conditions. While there is no cure for many of these diseases, proper and consistent treatment is the key to managing the symptoms allowing individuals to live long, productive lives. An engaged patient - one that knows what to do and when to do it - is the key ingredient to managing chronic conditions. Healthcare organizations need to make engaging and activating these patients a top priority. One communication channel that must be part of any chronic condition management strategy is text messaging. Here's a brief examination of the role texting can play in managing chronic ailments.
Chronic diseases and conditions—such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, and obesity—are extremely common in the U.S. Interestingly, they are also some of the most costly and preventable conditions. In 2010, seven of the top 10 causes of death were tied directly to chronic diseases—heart disease and cancer were responsible for nearly half of all deaths that year. One-third of adults in the U.S. (that comes out to 78 million people) were considered obese, and more than 53 million adults have arthritis. In 2012, roughly 29.1 million Americans (or 9.3 percent of the population) had diabetes. Notably, diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and lower-limb amputations among adults.
While there is no cure for most of these conditions they can be effectively treated and controlled with regular treatments and general lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, many Americans rarely take the initiative to embrace these changes on their own. For instance, in 2011, 52 percent of adults over the age of 18 didn’t meet the daily recommendations for exercise and physical activity. Moreover, while eating a healthy diet is critical when combating chronic ailments such as diabetes, 36 percent of adolescents and 38 percent of adults note that they eat fruit less than once each day. As of 2012, one out of five adults still smoked, and 38 million Americans binge drink roughly four times a month. The bottom line: when it comes to improving health, many Americans need consistent help and guidance.
It is clear that patients, especially those with chronic conditions, require ongoing education and reminders - tailored to their particular needs - to lead healthier lifestyles and keep their health in check. Given limited resources and time, how can a provider make this happen in an effective and cost efficient way? A comprehensive, text-first program is the answer.
Roughly nine out of every 10 Americans own a cell phone, and two-thirds own a smartphone, so it is safe to conclude that most Americans text and have access to the mobile web. In study after study, text communication is instrumental in changing behaviors.
Imagine the possibilities of a text-first chronic condition management program - one where all interactions begin with a text message. If required, links in the text message serve as a gateway to the mobile web where rich content such as educational pictures, videos, and secure portals are available. Using this approach, healthcare providers can easily and consistently:
- remind patients to take their medications
- provide timely, targeted educational information (e.g., communication to asthmatics during allergy season)
- obtain relevant health measurements such as blood/glucose levels
- prompt them to remain active throughout the day
The list goes on.
There is also technology available that can automatically notify a care manager or health coach if patient-reported information is outside of a pre-defined range - a powerful capability that supports cost-effective management of large populations.
Texting can help providers and healthcare organizations monitor patient behaviors. Texting is a rapid and affordable method of communication—there's a reason why most Americans today currently text multiple times during the day. If a healthcare organization is looking for a comprehensive and effective strategy for managing their chronically ill patients, they should look no further than text messaging.
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