By Rose Eveleth
Posting in Technology
Using cell phones to remind people about the flu vaccine could increase the vaccination level in low income communities.
You probably get texts every day. "How r u?" "What's 4 dinner" or just the simple "drinks later?" But what about one that reminds you to get vaccinated, or vaccinate your children?
In a study released today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of a text messaging campaign. They showed that texting increased the vaccination rate by 4 percent, compared with those who got the traditional phone call reminder.
For something like the flu vaccine to work, the majority of the population needs to get it. Building this herd immunity is key to keeping everyone healthy, so those who don't get vaccinated are putting not only themselves at risk, but their neighbors as well. So reminding those who don't vaccinate to do so could help everyone. Which is also why the relatively small increase in vaccination rates achieved by texting could make a difference.
"At a population level, an increase of even four percentage points is important," the authors wrote. "If applied across the U.S., it could represent an additional 2.5 million children and adolescents who receive influenza vaccination."
Vaccination rates are the lowest in low income areas, which is also where influenza spreads the fastest due to crowded living conditions. So it's even more important for them to get vaccinated. But reminding these communities to vaccinate is a challenge. Many of them don't speak English, and many don't have access to computers. ""Traditional vaccine reminders have had a limited effect on low-income populations; however, text messaging is a novel, scalable approach to promote influenza vaccination," the authors write in the paper.
Other advantages to texting, as opposed to phone calls, are that cell phone numbers tend to stay the same while people themselves move addresses and home phone numbers. Texting is also cheap, just a few cents per text. And it reaches the recipient right away, and stays around for future reference.
By texting patients to remind them about flu vaccines, doctors hope that they can reach large populations that were, until now, not receiving much information about vaccinations.
Photo: Qiao Xing, Wikimedia Commons
Apr 24, 2012