The Real Reach of Text Messaging

Population Health,Mobile

Of all communication methods available, text messaging is changing the way health care providers interact with patients. Text messaging is not only patient-friendly and cost-effective, but also has high adoption rates regardless of socio-economic status and age which explains why many health care providers are adapting to the concept.

It’s easy to gauge the simplicity of text messaging – health care providers send a message, patients receive it. Cost is easy to determine, too – just check with the network provider for SMS and data rates.

But the third benefit of text messaging – its broad reach – is a bit more challenging to measure. Just how effective is it at reaching more patients belonging to minority groups or with low socioeconomic status? There’s no single definitive study to measure “reach”, but there are several topical studies that can be used as a basis.

A study on text messaging’s influence on patients with HIV, syphilis, or tuberculosis revealed that subjects were generally receptive to health care related text messages. And among these subjects, Black and Hispanic subjects were more likely to feel that reminders for appointments and medications were helpful, as opposed to White subjects.

For diabetics, the pattern is the same. TeXT-MED, a six-month study to determine the effects of mobile health intervention, proved to be effective for diabetic Latinos in a low-income community. Differences in culture, language, and lifestyle have made it difficult for these Latinos to get the health care information they need, but text messaging resolves that by sending relevant content straight to their phones. Of all the results of the study, the most significant improvement is on medication adherence. Patients were better at remembering to take medicine at the appropriate times, and refilling prescriptions when their supplies run out.

You may be thinking that generations X, Y and Z make up the majority of participants in text messaging programs. However, they are not the only ones taking full advantage of text messaging. Baby Boomers are also widely using this communication channel. Conventional wisdom is that older demographics are not as open to technology, however, research indicates they tend to embrace text messaging for its simplicity and ease of use. According to a recent study performed by The Simmons National Consumer Study (NCS), 48% of adults aged 51-69 own smartphones and 92% of these owners text message weekly. Furthermore, 94% of smartphone owners who are 70 and older have also reported text messaging weekly.

Voicemails and emails have traditionally been the go-to communication channels in health care. They are, however, starting to lose steam as our society becomes more mobile-centric and increasingly demands small, immediate and bite size pieces of information. Text messages are fast, concise and can be referred back to again and again. With its power to reach a broad and diverse population of health care consumers, it’s time to seriously look at text messaging as a strategic communication tool for health care.