Texting for health

By Ann Griswold • Published: March 31st, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s been called a dangerous pastime, but text messaging could be a lifesaver for teens with chronic diseases. Scientists say texting improves medication adherence in patients with conditions ranging from H-I-V to diabetes.

Teens are notoriously forgetful when it comes to taking medications. But simple oversights can prove deadly in people who’ve had an organ transplant and need to take immunosuppressive drugs to prevent rejection of the new organ. Forgetfulness isn’t quite as deadly in teens who take daily meds for conditions like diabetes, H-I-V and tuberculosis, but it does pose a serious health risk. And remembering a doctor’s appointment? Sometimes teens forget that, too.

Researchers say texting is an effective way to remind teens of their obligations. A 2008 survey found that American teens exchange nearly two thousand text messages a month, compared with a couple hundred phone calls. So when it comes to reminding teens about appointments and medications, researchers say phone calls are behind the times: Today’s generation prefers to text.

Recent studies suggest the trick works: In one study, researchers sent five text messages a day to people with diabetes. In another study, clinicians texted overweight teens once a week to encourage physical activity. The findings show that texting boosts medication adherence, reduces asthma symptoms, lowers stress levels and helps smokers quit. Researchers have also found that teens who text for medical reasons are healthier, more physically active and miss fewer appointments.

Don’t believe it works? Try for yourself. Team up with a friend… text each other reminders once a day and see how well you do.