Can Text Messages Help Smokers Quit?

A recent article in Lancet appears to demonstrate the benefit of using simple motivational text messages to improve abstinence rates of tobacco smokers. The punchline: among 5,800 randomized patients, “Biochemically verified continuous abstinence at 6 months was significantly increased in the txt2stop group (10–7% txt2stop vs 4–9% control, relative risk [RR] 2–20, 95% CI 1·80—2·68; p<0·0001).”

So, what about text messaging in office-based practice? Well…it’s something people are writing about and is, of course, not a new idea. Here’s an interesting guest post from The Healthcare IT Guy blog. While the writer markets programs to facilitate text messaging, the article makes sense. Most people have access to text messaging, and simple texts about such topics as appointment reminders, office delays, and motivational messages could be sent relatively cheaply. The time-savings for both patients and staff could be significant.

Last February, Aneesh Chopra, the federal chief technology officer, announced a new program called Text4Baby, a free service that sends text messages with health tips. After entering the baby’s due date and mother’s zip code, the messages start flowing automatically. None of these messages count towards limited text messaging plans and, even without a text messaging plan, the messages are free thanks to collaboration across the wireless industry. As of its one-year anniversary in February 2011, the CDC reported that over 131,000 women had enrolled.

GE, through its healthymagination program, developed a free program called Morsel. While not a text messaging service, it sends daily recommendations for healthy activities, exercise, etc.

Of course, general messages are one thing… but patient-specific, clinically-oriented messages raise issues of privacy, security, and of course this means HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Just Google “text message healthcare hipaa” and you’ll see how many different companies have set up secure text messaging businesses and others commenting on the business.

The site had a four-part blog describing text messaging in the context of helping HIV positive patients. While it was written a couple of years ago and focuses on one particular condition, the posts do a nice job of covering the key issues including confidentiality and security: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Does your practice use text messaging? If so, for what purposes? Administrative issues only? Clinical topics/reminders? What has been your experience?

If your practice does not use text messaging now, do you anticipate this could be part of your patient/family communication strategy in the future? If not, why?

This post is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the American College of Physicians (ACP). ACP does not endorse a specific EHR brand or product and ACP makes no representations, warranties, or assurances as to the accuracy or completeness of the information provided herein.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *