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Text messaging as a solution for improved healthcare outcomes

Jed Alpert
Jed Alpert, Co-Founder, General Manager, Mobile Commons

For years the healthcare industry has struggled to find a way to bring high-quality healthcare to patients at an affordable price. And yet despite its best efforts, the industry still loses trillions of dollars each year due to medication non-adherence, missed appointments, and negligent health choices – all cases in which the patient doesn’t have the right information at the right time in order to make proactive choices in their healthcare regime. The good news is that these behaviors are preventable. Patients are capable of taking an active part in maintaining and improving their wellness. But until they do, these problems continue to plague the industry at a heavy cost to both the industry and its patients.

The solution to fixing this problem is first to understand that these negligent healthcare behaviors are symptomatic of a deeper root problem within the industry. Patients typically receive feedback on their health and support for managing it only within the confines of the doctor’s office. Once they leave, so too does their system of support. This lack of a consistent structure that is internally integrated in a patient’s day-to-day life is what largely allows slip-ups, set backs, and relapses to occur.

In cases of chronic disease management, for example, patients are juggling the responsibilities of every day life in conjunction with the often-rigorous medication and appointment schedule that managing the disease necessitates. It’s no surprise that patients forget to take their medication when they’re balancing multiple doses each day at specific times. It’s understandable how they might forget to show up to an appointment.

The same logic applies to a patient who is trying to modify their behavior for better overall health: whether that behavior change is quitting smoking, losing weight, or changing diet. Any time that a patient is making major lifestyle choices over an extended period of time there are bound to be relapses, errors in judgment, and moments of weakness. These slip-ups are only human. But a slip up is often a slippery slope, and without some sort of structure to get them back on track, patients often revert to old habits before the new ones have a chance to affect change, thereby leading them back to square one.

In order to provide the consistent support that patients need in order to manage a chronic disease or change a behavior, healthcare providers need to be able to communicate with them on an immediate and regular basis so that they can make proactive health choices. This strategy, of encouraging patients to take an active role in their wellness through consistent monitoring and support of their habits, is called patient engagement, and can revitalize the healthcare industry from within by providing patients with the consistent feedback and monitoring that they need in order to curb wasted expenditures and improve overall health.

Successful execution of patient engagement really requires only one tool – albeit a very specific one. It must be a communication tool, first of all, since communication is the crux of offering this consistent feedback and support. This tool must have a wide reach at a low cost (Sorry, call centers replete with full voicemail inboxes and missed phone calls. You don’t fit the bill.) The tool must be able to provide immediate feedback so that people remember to take their medicine when they need to, and not after it’s too late. (Goodbye email with delayed viewing and response rates.) Lastly, it should be able to provide customized health information to patients on an individualized basis, in a way that allows patients to actively engage with the material presented to them. That tool is text messaging.

American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Mobile Commons, patient engagement, SmokefreeTXT program, Start Smart For Your Baby Texting Program, text messaging

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