While it’s common practice to lament how much mobile phones have changed our lives — teens can’t seem to live without them, work is never more than an arm’s-length away, even on your days off — they actually provide a great service when it comes to your health.
The use of text messaging is a groundbreaking way to reach patients, especially those with a chronic illness, and put excellent health care literally in their hands. Texting programs can be customized for a variety of medical conditions, and help patients stay connected to their care team in a manner that is relevant, personal and engaging.
“Texting programs allow us to expand our reach and stay in contact with people who may not be interested or available by phone during business hours,” says Scott Heimer, population health and clinical research project manager with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Centers.
Sharp Rees-Stealy currently offers texting programs to help patients manage diabetes, weight loss and smoking cessation, and will soon include a program focused on high blood pressure. Text messages can also be exchanged regarding post-hospital discharge, medication adherence and general healthy living.
Depending on the program in which they participate, patients can receive anywhere from two texts a week to three messages a day throughout the duration of the program. Individual programs run between 12 weeks to one year. Patients have the option to opt out at any time.
Text messages offer practical guidance, motivational support and important reminders. This includes messages encouraging patients to take their medicine regularly and schedule their next appointment, as well as reminders to maintain physical activity and create healthy habits. Following a hospital admission, patients are encouraged to reflect back on warning signs leading up to their hospitalization. They are also reminded that they can communicate with a Sharp nurse about any questions or concerns.
Sharp Rees-Stealy medical assistants, certified nursing assistants and community health workers monitor incoming text messages. They follow up as needed with a variety of resources, giving patients another method by which they can reach out with questions that can be relayed to a nurse, social worker or their doctors.
According to Heimer, they have received more than 35,000 incoming text messages from the 2,600 people in the texting programs. The programs have allowed Sharp Rees-Stealy to increase its ability to communicate with patients by 36 percent, resulting in improved outcomes for texting participants and a lower hospital readmission rate than the general population. Patients enrolled in the post-hospitalization texting program had a 3.7 percent lower rate of readmission than the total Sharp Rees-Stealy patient population.
The anecdotal feedback is also worth noting. One patient offers, “I can’t express how much of a comfort these texts are. It’s like having a guardian angel — thank you.”
Learn more about Sharp Rees-Stealy texting and other care management programs.