3 ways SMS messages help improve health

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Around the world SMS services are being used in numerous innovative ways. Below we highlight a few recent examples of how SMS messages are changing the world – and our health – for the better.

1. Online SMS services help combat hay fever in Sweden

Earlier this summer scientists from the Sahlgrenska Academy and the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden used text messaging surveys to help reduce the symptoms of seasonal hay fever in children.

Two separate groups were given different treatments – one a placebo, the other a cellulose powder to treat the condition. SMS played a pivotal role in the study as it was used to issue reminders and reporting of symptom scores.

2. Email to SMS service helps healthcare in rural Africa

Research funded by the Brit organisation Wellcome Trust at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Nairobi found in August that the sending of text message reminders to healthcare workers in rural Africa improved the treatment of malaria. Prompt text message reminders meant that more patients received accurate antimalarial treatment.

For five working days, two text messages (one at 09:00 and one at 14:00) were sent daily to every health worker’s mobile phone. The same process was repeated every week for six months.

Within Africa, the adherence to national malaria treatment guidelines by health workers is vital in making sure that patients stick to and correctly complete malaria treatment doses. Failure to do so can not only affect the patient’s recovery from the disease, but can also increase the likelihood of the malaria parasites becoming resistant to the drugs.

3. Text messaging helps smokers quit

Studies in the US have revealed that text messaging can actually help smokers quit. Researchers at the University of Oregon and UCLA used SMS services as a low cost option for measuring health behaviours. Research participants were prompted by eight text messages per day for three weeks to document their ongoing cravings, mood and cigarette use.
The research showed that text messaging is at least as effective as more expensive and harder-to-use handheld data collection devices often used to help smokers quit.

“Text messaging may be an ideal delivery mechanism for tailored interventions because it is low-cost, most people already possess the existing hardware and the messages can be delivered near-instantaneously into real world situations,” said the study, which is scheduled to appear this week in Health Psychology, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

With the majority of Aussies owning a mobile phone – and even seniors sending regular text messages – there are numerous opportunities for text messaging services to be used to improve our overall health in the future.