Text messaging improves flu vaccination rates

Text message reminders to parents about vaccinating their children against the flu are more effective than traditional mail or phone notification methods, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) last week.

Researchers sent parents up to five weekly text messages reminding them about the need for vaccination, providing educational information and even instructions for Saturday clinics, according to the study. That was on top of the usual care provided to the control group--an automated telephone reminder, and informational flyers.

The results: Text messaging caused 3.7 percent more children to be vaccinated. The percentage change may seem small, but " for vaccines like influenza, recommended for the majority of the population, even small increases in such rates can lead to large numbers of protected individuals," the study authors say.

One factor that may have helped was that the messages were provided in both English and Spanish, depending on a parent's preference. Also, several of the messages attempted to debunk myths surrounding vaccination, which may have been discouraging parents from getting their children immunized, researchers say.

Researchers also posit that texting vaccine reminders may be more cost-effective than traditional methods. The researchers spent $7,000 in programming costs, and $270/week to prepare and monitor the messages, according to Medscape Medical News.

"Once the system is set up, the only variable cost is the sending of the text messages, which, even using commercial platforms, usually cost pennies per message. Therefore, depending on the size of the population, even amortizing upfront and monitoring costs, text messaging is inexpensive on a per individual basis," the authors say.

To learn more:
- read the JAMA study
- check out the Medscape article

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