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Text Messaging Can Improve Health Care


It seems like everyone is text messaging today, and you can add doctors to the list of users. According to pediatrician Delphine Robotham of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, text messaging can be a valuable addition to health care for doctors who are treating patients with chronic disease.

Did you take your prescribed medication today? Dozens of studies of different types of medications for a variety of ailments show that about half of patients do not take their daily medication properly. Although there are several reasons for noncompliance (forgetting, reducing doses to save money, side effects, complacency), forgetting is the top reason. Therefore, some patients may respond to a text message sent to them by their doctor.

Dr. Robotham notes in the Center’s news release that she is encouraging the use of appropriate text messaging among pediatricians at Hopkins Children’s Center. Recent studies indicate that text messaging is effective in a healthcare setting. In one study, for example, the use of text messaging helped children with diabetes improve their blood glucose testing rates, while in another study, liver transplant patients had improved medication adherence, which resulted in a dramatic decline in acute liver rejection.

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In patients who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, tuberculosis, and HIV, daily medication is necessary. Therefore patients who have these conditions are good candidates for text messaging, says Robotham.

Sanjay Jain, MD, of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and an expert in tuberculosis, believes text messaging is especially helpful in his specialty, in which patients need to take medications for many months. “Texting is an even more popular mode of communication outside the United States,” he says, “and especially so in developing countries, where most of the TB cases are.” He sees text messaging as an efficient way to reach patients in these areas.

For now, it looks like text messaging is here to stay, and healthcare providers can take advantage of this tool. “Sending a text to a patient’s cell phone about an upcoming appointment or a test or simply to remind them to take their meds is a great example of how we can harness new communication technology for a greater good,” says Robotham. Text messaging should not be relied on as the only way to communicate with patients, however, and doctors need to ensure they have the latest phone numbers for their patients.

Johns Hopkins Children’s Center news release, Dec. 29, 2009