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Texting Tales: Message Technology Increasing in Hospital Marketing & PR -- and (Surprise!) Wellness & Compliance

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Texting: mainstream for adults; hyper-stream for teens (Photo: Creative Commons)

It’s my impression that everyone in the nation has at least one mobile phone. But mobile phones are handling more text messages than phone calls. And the folks at The Pew Internet & American Life Project who keep track of such things say that’s correct…for both adults and adolescents.

On average, adults make and receive an average of 5 cell phone calls per day, according to a recent Pew report and they send and receive about 10 text messages per day. “Texting among adults has reached mainstream,” says Amanda Lenhart, author of the report.

But if texts by adults is only “mainstream,” teens are hyper-text users at five times that rate. Pew reports that half of all teens text 50 messages a day, on average that’s 1,500 texts a month. And some teens send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.

What’s more, mobile text messaging is growing in both age groups. And it has become a well-established communications channel for healthcare and hospital marketing, advertising and public relations. Here are some quick examples from the field.

Hospital Emergency Room wait times are increasingly available to the by text message in many parts of the country. We haven’t seen a tally of how many medical facilities are using this, but Suburban Boston MetroWest Medical Center is one, and a good illustration of how it works. They provide current ER wait times when patients text "MED11," or "63311" to the texting number 437411; ER times shoot back in reply. (Of course, always call 911 in the event of a life-threatening emergency.)

Reportedly the first in the state, the medical center says they see this as a competitive advantage and a means to enhance communications and relations with the community. They also generated a lot of local publicity, plus they have more mobile plans: They intend to provide a smart phone application that connects patients to lab test results, radiology scans, and searches for doctors.

We found local news reports about hospitals in Illinois, New Hampshire, Florida, California and elsewhere that have picked-up on this idea. In many instances ER wait times are also posted on the facilities website, updated via Twitter, and used on highway billboard signs. (Watch for an upcoming post about digital signs of service.)

And while ER wait times are becoming more common, texting is also a new tool to aid in medical treatment and wellness. Some recent examples:

In Columbus, OH, endocrinologist Jennifer Dyer, MD, MPH, recognized that texting was a primary communications tool for teen diabetic patients. So she pioneered a text based pilot program to remind teenage patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital about their insulin treatments. Part of the premise is that adolescent patients reportedly are not as faithful to treatment and medication regimes, by a factor of four, as adults.

Text reminders improved compliance, according to the study results at Nationwide. Friendly, supportive, and personalized text messages to patients resulted in teens being three times less likely to miss a dose. Dr. Dyer will be testing a phone app that allows endocrinologists to send personalized, automated texts to multiple patients at a specific time.

In New York, the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program at New York-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital has a medication adherence text message system for adolescent heart transplant patients. Mobile reminders for teens and patients encourage following schedules for medications that decrease organ rejection.

This follows a similar pilot program at Mt. Sinai Medical Center where teen liver transplant patients received text-based medication reminders. Both programs reportedly increased adherence among participants, and thus may have contributed to better outcomes…with write-ups in Pediatrics and The New York Times.

Further, texting and the Internet haven’t escaped the attention of the National Institutes of Health. A collaborative project between teens and healthcare experts (funded initially by NIH), has launched an online platform to promote adolescent wellness. Text messages, in conjunction with the teen health community site (BodiMoJo), provide teens with information about weight management, and other personal health and wellness topics.

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