Can text messages reduce infection rates?

Editorial Board

Editorial Board

October 30th, 2015

Editorial Board

‘Sending text messages to mobile phones can help increase immunisation rates and curb the spread of vaccine-preventable infections, according to research from Columbia University. ’

Dr Melissa Stockwell, Associate Professor of Paediatrics and Population Family Health at Columbia University, says text reminders can be more effective than traditional communication methods.

We sat down with Dr Stockwell to ask why text reminders work so well.

“Parents feel that it shows the healthcare providers is caring about them even when they are not right in front of them,” she says. “Our research has shown that in children, adolescents and pregnant women, sending text messages is more to encourage people to come in for vaccination.”

She says traditional forms of reminder – like phone and postcard – often doesn’t work in low-income, adolescent and rural populations.

Sending short and effective text messages is not always easy. Text messages are usually no more than 160 characters long, yet it is essential that texts from doctors’ practices get the tone right; that speak a language that is well understood without being too informal.

“The character limit actually ends up being helpful because you’re forced to be brief and you end up using language that is very accessible to patients and their families,” says Dr Stockwell who is also Medical Director of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Immunization Registry (EzVac) and Co-Director of the Columbia University Primary Care Clinician Research Fellowship in Community Health.

As evidence continues to build behind the value of sending text reminders, she expects more healthcare professionals to embrace the technology. “I’ve likened it to modern-day house call. It’s a way you can visit their family in their home and give information,” she told Vaccines Today.