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Back to mobile basics

Texting as part of a wider healthcare plan
Back to mobile basics

The inexorable growth in the power and popularity of the mobile phone over the past 10 years is undeniable. Today there are an incredible 6 billion mobile phones in the world – that's more than there are computers, cars and even toilets.

As detailed in the book The insider's guide to mobile a person's mobile phone is normally no more than six feet away and we look at them approximately 84 times a day.

People read a text message within four minutes of receiving it - a stark difference to emails which often take up to 48 hours to be read. 

It's understandable then that marketers have jumped on the mobile phenomenon – making mobile marketing a massive priority in their business. But it's not just marketers that are riding the wave; innovators in healthcare are starting to use mobile technology as a platform to improve too.

A lot of emphasis has focused on the use of smartphones – with their apps and internet capabilities – to support a healthcare plan, but increasingly the rather more primitive use of SMS messages is becoming a cheap, simple way to deliver a healthcare message.

Recent examples include the decision by Imperial College London to research whether the use of SMS text messages can improve the quality of life of people with type 2 diabetes.

The three-year study is the first of its kind in the UK and is designed to find out whether motivational text messages, such as 'Try to reduce your salt intake' and 'Take a walk rather than use the bus today', are an effective way to manage the progression of diabetes. 

If the study demonstrates that SMS is an effective way of helping a person with diabetes to control their condition, it would provide evidence for use of texting as part of healthcare plan.

Such use of text messaging is not unprecedented in healthcare, and texts are already widely used throughout the UK to remind people about their appointments.  This is done in an effort to reduce DNA (Did Not Attend) rates that cost trusts hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in wasted time and resource of doctors and support staff. 

However, there are many other ways that SMS could be used to help improve the health of individuals and reduce costs to the NHS, leaving funds available to be directed at more acute or problematic areas which need investment.  

Firstly, it's important to look at SMS as a two-way thing; they're not just useful for sending out proactive messages reminding people to do something, they're also a great way of asking for feedback and finding out exactly what people are thinking.

We all know that there is a big drive across all public services to deliver services on a cost-effective basis. SMS can play a vital role in helping to achieve this. Take the example of managing patient appointments; SMS is the ideal channel for delivering this service with maximum efficiency, enabling expensive human resources to focus on other matters. Furthermore the patient benefits from the improved service as they are able to reply to a message at their convenience, rather than potentially being interrupted by or missing a call.  

Similarly, on the back of Sir Bruce Keogh's report which stated that patients should be treated as “vital and equal partners” and that their feedback should be “listened to and used to impact their care and the care of others” there is a huge amount of pressure on NHS Trusts for them to listen to the views of patients. SMS provides a simple, quick and easy channel for relatives to share their views on how they or their loved one was treated. 

A simple example might be to send a message to someone once they have been discharged from hospital asking them, “How likely are you to recommend our department to your friends and family?”  You put it on a scale of extremely likely to extremely unlikely and you'll find out how you're doing in a fast and clear way.

However, it's the next text that acts as a platform to help the healthcare industry truly find out where they're going right or wrong – with the simple question, “Why?”

By asking, you are not only telling them that you care what they think, but you are giving them the opportunity to reply verbatim, without the leading questions (typical of surveys) that may sway their answer and make it less impartial. You are therefore giving the insight a qualitative feel to their quantitative score.

Text messages also have advantages over calling or email. They are fast, accurate and they reach the right person - who knows which family member you'll get through to when you ring a landline?

Below are a few other examples of ways in which text messages can be used in healthcare:

  • Giving people essential advice on health matters relevant to them - 15 years ago when a Welsh newspaper scared parents about the risk of the MMR vaccine, it resulted in far too many children not being vaccinated, leading to an influx of cases in recent months, risking their health and the health of others around them. SMS could have greatly helped the situation.  If you're a parent and you receive a personal text message, direct from your doctor explaining what the MMR vaccine is, and the potential side effects then you're more likely to understand the facts rather than being led astray by rumours.
  • Deliver reminders for all to live a healthy lifestyle - As with this current diabetes study with ICL, reminders could be sent out to people with sensitive health issues, reminding them to take their medication or vitamins.  For example, during pregnancy, women could receive messages reminding them to take their folic acid or post pregnancy they could ask, “have you seen your health visitor lately?”  While some people will take these things into consideration, many won't or will forget and it's for these people that it could be life changing.
  • Paying for prescription drugs – SMS technology could also be used to help people pay for their prescriptions using their mobile phones.  In some third world countries this is already in full force because while it can be difficult to carry money, everyone owns a mobile phone. 

In summary there are a number of ways that the mobile can be exploited across the healthcare sector, helping to both improve service and reduce costs.

Article by
David Walsh

healthcare sector manager at Rapide. Email rapide@rapide.co.uk

9th April 2014

From: Marketing, Healthcare

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