Text messaging patients reduces heart attack, stroke, smoking

'Mobile health interventions, even simple ones, can influence patient behaviors and improve risk profiles in the short term'
By Jack McCarthy
09:54 AM
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Benefits to exercise, smoking cessation, and weight loss are well understood by patients and hospitals alike. What has been traditionally more difficult to pinpoint, however, are techniques to make those lifestyle modifications happen.  

Among the software and tools being tested to trigger such changes, the simple practice of texting targeted reminders to patients has shown a certain degree of value.

Indeed, texting has proven valuable at a number of hospitals, including Geisinger Health System, Duke University School of Medicine, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, and Partners Healthcare have trialed or implemeneted texting programs. And in the most recent pilot program patients who received regular text messages offering health tips were able to lower their risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers in the study, called the Tobacco, Exercise and Diet Messages (TEXT ME), sent four texts a week to 350 people with heart disease reminding them to practice healthier habits. Another similarly sized group of patients stuck with their usual care routines only they did not receive texts.

Patients in the first group received four text messages per week for six months in addition to usual care. The messages provided advice, motivational reminders, and support to change lifestyle behaviors to eat right, exercise more and smoke less.

After the trial period, patients receiving the texts generally had more success reducing their weight, blood pressure, body mass, cholesterol and tobacco use than those who didn't, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Mobile health interventions, even simple ones, can influence patient behaviors and improve risk profiles in the short term," Zubin Eapen, MD and Eric Peterson, MD colleagues at Duke University in Durham, N.C., commented in an editorial in JAMA.

Before the study began, for instance, 53 percent of both groups were smokers. By the study's completion, 26 percent of participants in the test group were smokers, compared with 43 percent in the control group.

"These findings are consistent with other evaluations that have demonstrated effectiveness in promoting short-term weight loss and smoking cessation," the authors explained. 

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