Study: Text, messaging-based research requires mobile system reliability assessment

As the use of mobile health tools that rely on wireless network connections grows, so will the need for researchers to investigate the best mobile network options as failed messages and delivery mechanisms can impact results, according to new research published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

Mobile network signal fluctuations and short signal ranges are potential barriers to the use of messaging, which can impact data results, according to the study, conducted by William Brown III, DrPH, MPhil, MA of the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, New York State Psychiatric Institute, and Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University

"Limited signal availability, often due to poor antenna infrastructure, negatively impacts the implementation of mHealth tools and remote data collection," the study's authors say. "Assessing the antenna infrastructure prior to starting a study can help mitigate this problem." 

Texting and messaging technologies are playing a critical role in the wave of mHealth apps and devices being tapped by patients, providers and payers. Text messaging is helping patients adhere to prescribed medication while saving health payers and government healthcare organizations millions of dollars. Texting also is being used to keep teen diabetics engaged in healthcare issues and treatment, and can help chronic disease patients to be more efficient in managing their condition.

The report's authors recommend further investigation on antenna and tower accessibility and the need for cartographic analysis before depending on messaging technology in a research project.

"This method should also be retested in research studies with other mHealth tools," the authors say. "If properly implemented and scaled, SMS provides efficient data collection and reliable surrogate markers of adherence to assess viability, safety, acceptability, or efficacy of new biomedical and behavioral interventions."

For more information:
- read the JMIR mHealth and uHealth report

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