A new study published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association, found that getting texts with motivating and informative messages led patients with coronary heart disease to make behavior changes like exercising more and smoking less. By the end of the six-month study, patients who had received the text messages had significantly reduced their cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index.
In a randomized clinical trial, more than 700 patients with coronary heart disease were split into two groups: half received four text messages per week for six months plus usual care, while the other half received just usual care.
The texts that patients received were personalized, based on background information, such as smoking status and preferred name. For example, vegetarian participants wouldn’t receive the text message about how grilling steak is healthier than deep-frying it.
Other texts included things like, “Hi, Elizabeth. Have you gone for your walk today?” or “Have you taken your medications yet today? It’s important to take them at the same time each day.” Interestingly, although study participants were told that they did not need to reply to the text messages, many of them still did, writing things like, “Thanks for the message. I’ve been on my walk, my blood pressure is better.”
This research provides evidence that a text-based program can improve heart disease risk factors, but it also shows that a bunch of bells and whistles in the form of fancy apps and other technology aren’t required for successful health outcomes. A simple, low-cost program of text messaging can do the trick.
You don’t have to have a smartphone to text. Most people own a mobile phone and that’s all you need. That means more access across more sectors of a population. While almost two-thirds of American adults own a smartphone, that number rises even higher when you’re talking about plain old cell phones – nine out of 10 American adults own some kind of cellular phone.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death. Making healthy changes in behavior can be difficult, but for patients with heart disease, it can be crucial. Yet those daily decisions – whether to smoke that cigarette, eat that piece of cake or skip the gym – are often too far removed from the immediate rewards or future consequences. Encouraging text messages may help to inform those everyday decisions and keep a bigger goal in mind.