TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2016

Text reminders effective in follow-up medical care, study finds

Parents who received "educational" text message reminders to renew their children’s influenza vaccines were much more likely to follow those directives than those who were reminded in different ways, a new study said.

Scientists at the Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center examined the behavior of parents of young children who needed two doses of influenza vaccine to adequately protect them from catching it. After the first dose, parents were reminded in writing to return their children for the second dose. The researchers found that by sending two different kinds of text reminders to some of the group, the educational one convinced parents to bring children in sooner than conventional text and written reminders.

The journal Pediatrics published the results of the study online. 

Researchers studied the impact of using text message reminders for the second dose of influenza vaccine required for many young children to protect them against the virus. The findings showed that sending text message reminders increased the receipt of the second dose of the vaccine by the end of the season and brought children in sooner to be vaccinated.

When educational information on the importance of the second dose of influenza vaccine was embedded into the text messages, there was an even greater effect compared with conventional text messages that only told families when and where to go and with written reminders only. 

The scientists conducted the trial during the 2012-13 flu season at three New York pediatric clinics. The children were those who needed a second dose of influenza vaccine. The study said that the majority of the families were Latino and insured with public money. Seventy-one percent thought their children were protected after the first dose.

All families in the study owned cellphones and used text messaging as a form of communication.

The parents who received educational text messages were 72 percent more likely to return to the clinic, those receiving conventional reminders had a 66 percent return rate and the written reminder-only group at 57 percent.

"Text message programs like these allow for health care providers to care for their patients even when they are not in front of them in the office, somewhat like a modern day house call," principal investigator Dr. Melissa Stockwell said. Stockwell is assistant professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health and assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Medical Center.