Youngsters choose mobile-phone medication reminders.
Mobile-phone texts from a 'virtual friend with asthma' encourage teenage asthmatics to use their inhalers properly, a UK study has found. The results suggest that giving young people control over their health education gets the message across.
Asthma affects around 15% of people aged under 18 in Britain, hospitalizing one in twenty of those at some time. Regular medication can control the condition, but children often forget to take it.
So Ron Neville of Westgate Health Centre in Dundee, UK, offered 30 teenagers a selection of daily text messages. They could receive snippets of horoscopes, sport or celebrity gossip every day for a month, they could get similar daily bulletins peppered with asthma reminders, or they could opt for a daily dose of general health information.
At the outset all the youngsters plumped for the mixed messages - fun stuff plus inhaler reminders such as "Bonjour, c'est Max. Hav U taken Ur inhaler yet?". By the end of the month, all had also signed up for nuggets of health advice on dealing with asthma.
This underlines how important it is to let young patients take control over what information they receive, says Neville: "It's on their terms and agenda."
And it seems to work. Participants said that the reminders had improved their medication regime. Several commented that they usually forget to take their inhalers two or three times a week, but that during the study month they hadn't missed it once. They were not medically examined.
“Anything that helps them to remember is worth a try Mike Silverman , Leicester University”
"Anything that helps them to remember is worth a try," says child-health expert Mike Silverman of Leicester University, UK. Getting kids to tick a chart, keep medicine by their toothbrush or set their watch alarms can work, he explains; the problem is keeping the reminders effective after they stop being novel.
Neville hopes that patient-picked texts might help other age groups with different illnesses. Already several heath websites offer daily phone-text reminders for women to take their contraceptive pill, regular development facts for pregnant mothers, or simply general health tips.
Commercial text-message services like these cost around 25 pence (40 cents) per message received. The texts in the asthma study cost less than 10 pence each. Neville feels that this is a reasonable price, but has one important note for future schemes: sending messages during school hours gets pupils into trouble with teachers.
Neville, N., Greene, A., McLeod, J., Tracy, A. & Surie, J. Mobile phone text messaging can help young people manage asthma. British Medical Journal, 325, 600, (2002).