Text messages help eczema patients stick to treatment

By Bernie Monegain
04:01 PM

A recent study conducted by the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners HealthCare, revealed that daily text messages providing medication reminders and information about atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema) significantly improved treatment adherence, self-care behaviors, skin severity and quality of life for dermatology patients.

Atopic dermatitis is a common chronic skin disease, accounting for 30 percent of all dermatology visits. Adherence to self-care behaviors among patients with the disease has been historically low.

The study was published in the current issue of Dermatology Research and Practice (volume 2010).

It was the first to combine medication reminders with educational information, which researchers say may lead to the use of text messaging as an important way to educate patients and support positive behavior change.
"It is not surprising that text messaging helped patients stick with their treatment plan and take their medication as prescribed," said Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, director of the Center for Connected Health. "However, we went a step further by including educational information, which, we believe, can lead to critical improvements in self-care behavior that were observed in this study."

Following an initial visit with a trained research assistant to assess the severity of the participants' skin condition, 25 adolescents and adults (mean age, 30.5 years), completed the study, conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Patients received daily text messages for six weeks, reminding them to continue their treatment or providing them with educational information about their condition. At the conclusion of the study, participants received a second skin evaluation.

At enrollment, the majority of participants reported they sometimes forgot to use their medication (92 percent) and often stopped treatment when their skin symptoms improved (88 percent). At the end of the six-week study, 72 percent reported improved adherence. More than two-thirds of participants (68 percent) reported an improvement in the number of self-care behaviors they routinely performed, such as avoiding soaps or other products that could irritate skin, and 98 percent reported an improvement in at least one self-care behavior.

As a result, there was a significant improvement in skin conditions, with 76 percent of participants realizing an improvement in their condition. Seventy-two percent of participants reported improvements in their quality of life.

"Text messaging is a cost-effective way to deliver short, concise information to patients over a longer period of time, and because it is automated, requires no extra effort from the provider," Kvedar said. "Our study also indicates that patients are willing and ready to integrate technology, such as text messaging, into their care. It can also help to improve communication between patients and providers."

The majority of study participants also reported they found both the text message reminders (88 percent) and the educational texts (92 percent) helpful. All participants stated that they were willing to use technology to manage their health, and 84 percent would want to continue using the text messaging system.