Texting improves health outcomes for young asthmatics

Simple, daily SMS text messages asking pediatric asthma patients about their symptoms and providing knowledge about their condition can lead to improved health outcomes, according to a study out of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 30 asthmatic children from a private pediatric pulmonology clinic in Atlanta into three groups--a control group that did not receive any SMS messages; a group that received text messages on alternate days; and a group that received texts every day. All the children who participated were between the ages of 10 and 17 years, according to the school, owned a mobile phone and could read at least at a fifth grade level.

During a four-month period, the intervention groups received and responded to SMS messages 87 percent of the time, and the average response time was within 22 minutes. Upon conclusion of the study, the research team analyzed patients who had follow-up visits with their physician and found that sending at least one text message a day--whether it was a question about symptoms or about asthma in general--improved clinical outcomes.

"The results indicate that both awareness and knowledge are crucial to individuals engaging in proactive behavior to improve their condition," study leader Rosa Arriaga, a senior research scientist in the College of Computing's School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, said in a statement.

The research--presented this week at the 2013 ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris--won a best paper award in the Replichi category, which highlights best practices in study methodology. It is a replication study of an SMS health intervention for pediatric asthma patients originally published in early 2012 in the Proceedings of the 2nd ACM SIGHIT International Health Informatics Symposium.

Similarly, new research recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found texting to be a useful tool for assessing the health behavior of adolescents in real-time. In a study, 60 teenagers were equipped with smartphones that included unlimited text messaging and data for 30 days. Applications preinstalled on the phones were related to asthma, obesity, human immunodeficiency virus, and diet.

The purpose of the study was to "understand the health information needs of adolescents in the context of their everyday lives and to assess how they meet their information needs." What researchers found was that the teenagers in the study were willing to use text messaging to report their health information.

To learn more:
- read the research paper
- read the school's announcement