Connected Health 2015: Texting 'not sexy,' but effective, Geisinger's Chanin Wendling says

Text messaging is one of the most underutilized tools in healthcare, according to Geisinger's Chanin Wendling.

Wendling, who serves as director of eHealth for the Danville, Pennsylvania-based provider system, believes that while other, "more flashy" tools are available to help patients and providers improve health outcomes, text messaging's appeal is its lack of flash, ease of use and affordability.

At the HIMSS Connected Health Summit in Maryland this week, Wendling shared some of Geisinger's successes using text messaging, as well as future plans for the technology.

"[Texting] is not as cool as the sexy mobile app with the nice screens, but I'm telling you, it's very effective," she said.

To illustrate the popularity of texting among her care population, Wendling compared the number of patients at Geisinger signed up to use the health system's portal, 325,000--which has been live since 2001--to those signed up to receive text message appointment reminders, which have been live for roughly two years.

"I have over 290,000 patients enrolled" in our text-reminder program, she said. "That tells you something about what patients are interested in."

Geisinger has another texting program for patients trying to lose weight, Wendling said. The health system sends reminders three days a week--on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays--for 12 weeks.

"Our GI nutrition department told me that when we have the patients here, we don't have any issues. They're all motivated," she said. "But then they go home, and they forget what we say. And they lose their motivation, or they go to a party and there's a lot of cake. They need regular reminders."

During the hospital's pilot of the program, participating patients had a 0.5 greater BMI loss than those who did not receive text messages. "Not huge numbers, but every bit helps," Wendling said. "And patients were really happy with it."

Wendling said that medication reminder programs are in the pipeline for Geisinger, as well, which patients can customize.

Research published in September in the Journal of the American Medical Association determined that texting supportive reminders regarding lifestyle choices to patients with heart disease can help improve treatment results. The study's authors, however, also concluded that additional research is needed to determine if such benefits continue once the texting stops.

Another study, published in January, concluded that texting may be a beneficial tool for mental health treatment.