- The humble text message may be the most important way to make a difference to urban populations, suggests a small study by the University of Michigan, by giving patients a simple, unobtrusive way to connect to their providers, receive health education, and return feedback on their needs. With the ubiquity of text-capable cellphones no longer in question, providers seeking a cost-effective and impactful way of reaching out to underserved populations might wish to invest in text messaging infrastructure that can establish two-way communication with patients.
The study involved lower income African-American patients in Detroit who were asked questions about what they would do in a number of different health situations, such as experiencing the symptoms of a stroke. Their text message answers revealed that several of the patients were unaware of the importance of immediate stroke care, indicating the possible need for better community-wide education about the life-threatening condition.
“Our study shows great potential to connect with a population that’s traditionally difficult to reach. Texting is a simple technology that is already being used for everyday communication- it is something people from all backgrounds are very comfortable with,” says lead author Tammy Chang, MD, MPH, MS, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
“This is a group whose attitudes and perceptions are incredibly important to understand, but who may not necessarily be taking online surveys or attending community meetings,” she added. “We found that texting is not only acceptable and feasible but is the preferred method of collecting real time information from low-income community members. Most importantly, texting may offer an efficient, inexpensive way to give a voice to people who aren’t often heard and whose needs aren’t always met.”
Other studies have found that socioeconomically challenged populations are at significantly higher risk for chronic health conditions and negative outcomes, including a higher risk of diabetic amputations and hospitalizations for heart disease and other cardiac conditions. With cell phone ownership among African-American patients surpassing that of white Americans by 3 percent, and text message usage rates more than 10% higher than among whites, using texting to conduct outreach and recoup feedback may be a highly effective way to leverage a familiar, intuitive activity.
“This everyday technology may not only help researchers better understand under-represented perspectives, it can also help organizations quickly tap into their stakeholders thoughts and opinions to get to the heart of significant issues,” Chang said. “What’s great about text messaging is that it’s not a new technology that anyone has to create or learn how to use.”