Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 10, 2015

How Text Messaging Has Impacted Our Health

For the most part, long gone are the days when a doctor made house calls, and even longer since, “take two pills and call me in the morning,” was the standard prescription. Advancements in medicine over the last half-century have been profound, possibly matched only by the way we communicate with one another, two areas not necessarily mutually inclusive, but rather intrinsically linked. With the advent and consequent explosion of text messaging in the twilight of the 20th century, our world has shrunk, expectations of the speed with which we communicate has risen, and actual communiqués have attained a level of brevity unmatched by anything before.

It seems self-evident that the health sector, among others, would utilize text messaging for near instant communication among doctors, nurses, and other hospital and clinic personnel (when time is quite often of the utmost essence with patient lives). A recently published white paper by Spok, Inc., a company that provides solutions for HIPAA-compliant text messaging, paging, on-call scheduling, hospital call and contact centers, and clinical alerting, outlined several reasons why hospitals are increasingly turning to critical messaging. Text messaging apps, specifically, as opposed to traditional text messaging, are being used to communicate in-house. Traceability leads to better accountability and detailed tracking of what messages were sent, when and to whom – all recorded and saved through a smart phone app. These records can minimize the chance that serious injuries or even deaths will result in litigation. More and more smart phone apps are also able to integrate with hospital IT structures, like database and scheduling systems, making communication and the sharing of patient information via text messaging among personnel that much quicker, more direct, and better organized.

Text messaging is used for marketing, promotion, and sales with great effect, but certain areas of the health sector have begun using text messaging in more unconventional ways as well. For example, simple reminders have found their way into the staple of communications methods. Doctors, dentists, and other healthcare practitioners have use text for appointment reminders, but for so much more. A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 6-month to 8-year-old children in need of an influenza (“flu”) vaccine were 27 percent more likely to receive the critical second dose when their parents were sent a text message reminder (instead of just a written reminder), with educational info, second dose due date, and clinic walk-in hours. The personalization seems to have been appreciated as well. Dr. Melissa Stockwell, a pediatrician and assistant professor at Columbia who led this study, said, “People said they really liked the texts. They actually said it showed the doctor’s office cared about them.”

New mothers are benefiting from text messaging alerts as well. Several companies across the country including and, send daily or periodic reminders to moms that it might be time to give their infants their medicine, or even read a story to them, among other activities. A recent study by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University determined that, after studying the effects of READY4K!, a text messaging program for parents of preschoolers designed to help them support their children’s literacy development, the increase of parental involvement and activity with children translated into learning gains across the board. Text reminders included pointing out two words that begin with the same sound, pointing out two words that rhyme, reciting nursery rhymes, looking at pictures in a book, showing the different parts of a book, and playing games or working on puzzles with their children. The study also found the program was particularly beneficial for black and Hispanic parents and their children. Texts to highly specific literacy activities were more effective than general actions. The popularity of these types of programs comes with an overall low cost as well. Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, currently working on a program to text health tips to patients before and after appointments, points to data that shows texting provides better, more compassionate care. 

Text messaging is also proving useful in helping people quit smoking. Between 2011 and 2013, Text2Quit ran an automated, personalized, and interactive mobile health program sending text messages to those trying to quit smoking cigarettes. Sending regular text messages to participants offering advice, support, and reminders about primary methods of abstinence, 11.1 percent of those who received text message reminders were able to kick the habit versus 5.0 percent who did not. Lorien Abroms, the creator of the program and a professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health in Washington, D.C., was interested in helping people quit smoking with cognitive behavioral therapy and smartphones were used to support the methodology. 

Whether or not text messages reach more people than any other single mode of communication is not in question. The challenge is how and with what regularity pertinent, relevant, and timely information is most effectively distributed to the appropriate audience for the greatest good. The ever-changing world and evolving technology have brought us to a place where texts are the standard form of day-to-day communication. It’s a brave new world, one in which personal house calls might not still exist, but one where, possibly, instead of being told “You’re up next,” you will instead receive a text that says, “The doctor will see you now.”

David Endris is the Client Success Manager at cloud-based voice and text platform, CallFire.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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By TMCnet Special Guest
David Endris, Client Success Manager, CallFire ,


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