How Text Messaging and mHealth Can Support Patient Education

Population Health,mhealth,Patient Compliance,Onboarding and Engagement

office-620823_1920.jpgAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chronic disease is responsible for 75% of America’s healthcare expenses each year and for 70% of deaths. The CDC also advises that “chronic diseases can be largely preventable through close partnership with your healthcare team.” Conversely, preventative services are only utilized by patients at approximately half the recommended rate. This discrepancy between the need for care due to chronic disease and the underutilization of preventative care services suggests a strong need for patient support and education. Implementing a mobile messaging program is one strategy for enhancing the link between healthcare providers and healthcare consumers and creates a unique communication channel for delivering timely and relevant patient education.

Education Increases Patient Compliance

Partnerships between patients and treatment team members can improve treatment compliance and, therefore, support decreased chronic disease. Research has shown that patients are more likely to take medication as prescribed when reminders are provided. While studies are not yet available showing the effects of reminders on dietary and lifestyle changes, the improvements seen in medication adherence studies can be generalized to other medically-necessary, lifestyle changes. In order to follow medical recommendations, patients need access to information and ongoing guidance. Timely and relevant links to educational materials can be sent through text messages (if protected health information is involved, this can be accomplished through an authentication process that limits access to the information behind the link), increasing the patient’s understanding of what they need to do to maintain their health and why. This can include anything from exercise to healthy eating. Long-term, sustainable patient behavior changes requires a high level of engagement and responsive health care professionals. Text messaging can streamline and support this process.

Education Increases Patient Engagement

Patients often have questions about their health. While research has shown the benefits of using a patient portal to provide patients with access to personal health information; text messaging takes access a step further. Through routine contact, the patient relationship and overall patient experience can be enhanced.

Text messaging provides an alternative to calling every patient – which is not only cost-prohibitive but also not always the patient’s preferred communication method. Consider this scenario: a provider enrolls their patient into an engagement “program.” (This program could be focused on specific topics or on general wellness.) In this program, the patient receives a periodic text message that includes education information along with a question asking if they have any questions and concerns and would like a call from their provider. When a patient indicates that they would like a call, an alert can be sent to a provider noting that follow-up is necessary for specific questions or concerns. Every interaction can include a phone number for the patient to call to make it easy and convenient in the event they would prefer to initiate an interactive voice discussion.

A program like this can save significant time and resources for healthcare providers. It also allows the patient to feel as though the healthcare team is accessible and decreases frustration when questions cannot be answered quickly or contact information has been misplaced. Healthcare providers may not always have the time to share additional information and resources with patients. Utilizing rapid responses and educational links to resources can increase preventative care and compliance, without increasing provider workload.

Education Decreases Cost of Treatment

Ongoing education and access to resources is one aspect of community prevention and preventative care. Community prevention not only supports behavioral changes in an individual, but it systematically improves the health and contributions of the entire population. Chronic disease is responsible for over $1 trillion in lost workplace productivity, making prevention of chronic disease a priority to address the rising the costs of healthcare. 

Prevention can include many components but primarily consists of encouraging patients to use clinical preventative services, creating environments that promote healthy lifestyles, and encouraging individuals to give more attention to prevention. Each of these aspects can be improved by educating patients and providing ongoing information through text messaging while limiting the additional costs to healthcare providers.

Additionally, educational programs decrease the necessity of expensive healthcare procedures and provide improved outcomes through ongoing lifestyle management. Such community prevention has been found to save both lives and money, with analyses placing the amount of savings at 4.5M lives and nearly $600B over 25 years of implementation. While many medical interventions are costly procedures, prevention can improve quality of life, contribution to society, and decrease cost of care due to chronic health conditions.

Overall, patient education and outreach is a clear path to decreasing debilitating and costly chronic disease. Text messaging and mobile is one cost efficient and effective way to deliver timely and relevant education and improve patient engagement.