Texting tapped to help stem preterm birth rate in rural areas

A new study underway by University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) researchers focuses on whether text-based technology can help reduce preterm births in rural Nebraska.

The project, funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, will involve 100 participants divided into two control groups. Both groups will receive traditional medical care and two home visits from a community health worker, according to an announcement on the study.

One group will receive an informational packet of prenatal information and resources that includes assistance linked to a service called Text4Baby. The second group will receive a smartphone preloaded with Preterm Birth Text Messaging software customized to a patient's health status and risk factors; these mothers will also receive weekly individual texts from healthcare workers regarding prenatal health, as well as referrals, resources and appointment reminders.

"The goal is to reduce preterm births among rural women by testing an evidence-based clinical intervention," Mary Cramer, M.D., of UNMC's College of Nursing and the study's principle investigator, told FierceMobileHealthcare.

Text messaging is gaining deep root in healthcare given its low-cost factor, high level of access for patients and low learning curve.

For example, a recent study looked at how text messaging may prove useful in mental health treatment. And texting has already proven to be beneficial for a South Carolina hospital in terms of boosting staff efficiency and providing better patient care for patients living in remote areas. Other studies have revealed how text messaging is helping curb teenage binge drinking and aiding homeless military veterans needing healthcare attention.

The UNMC study results may show ways to improve healthcare practices by rural providers and supplement medical care with reliable health insight and low-cost resources, Cramer said.

"The findings could also change health policy for private and public insurers for covering these low-cost services during pregnancy, and as a way to prevent the high costs of caring for preemie babies and long-term health consequences of premature births," she added.

Preterm birth is a national healthcare worry; one in every nine babies is born pre-term, according to the announcement.

"The literature shows few overall studies on how mHealth tech impacts a patient's health status, so this study is very important," Cramer tells FierceMobileHealthcare.

For more information:
- read the announcement

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