Keeping Asthma at Bay with SMS Each Day

TextingScreenA new study by the Georgia Institute of Technology saw improvement in young asthma patients who received a text message about their condition every day. Pediatric patients were sent questions about their symptoms as well as asthma factoids via SMS. After four months they showed improved pulmonary function and demonstrated a better understanding of asthma.

The study “A Text Message a Day Keeps the Pulmonologist Away” was a replication of another study that had been done in 2012 and published in the Proceedings of the 2nd ACM SIGHIT International Health Informatics Symposium. That study had produced positive results, and this time researchers wanted to see if they could achieve the same if they replicated the study.

It’s often said that smartphones are ubiquitous. But a more accurate statement is that cell phones are ubiquitous. This study takes a look at a very simple and potentially low cost intervention that doesn’t generate or record much data except for the data the researchers collected.

How the study was conducted

Thirty asthma patients between the ages of 10 and 17 years old were assigned to one of three groups. The control group did not receive text messages. A second group received texts every other day, and a third group received texts every single day.

The children who were sent texts every other day received texts only about symptom awareness. For example, the text might have asked, “In the past 4 weeks did you wake up at night with wheezing or difficulty breathing?” Members of second group were sent symptom awareness and knowledge awareness tests, such as true or false questions about the condition. The study was four months long, a length of time that represents the recommend time between doctor visits for pediatric asthma patients.

The results

Children who were part of the intervention groups responded to the SMS messages 86% of the time. Patients who received text messages every day had improved lung function and improved quality of life. In follow-up interviews the children also seemed to have increased awareness of their symptoms.

One child responded, “Umm, I think I thought about what the problems I was having more if any problems. I like what can I do to get this better… I think after the questions maybe I feel lucky I don’t have any problems since the study.”

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