Wellable has long advocated for using test messaging as a medium of communication to facilitate individuals with living a healthier life (we even wrote a free eBook about it). Now, another study suggests text messaging could prevent heart attacks. The results of the six-month clinical trial, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that patients recovering from a heart attack were more likely to maintain lower blood pressure, less body fat, and lower cholesterol levels relative to a control group when receiving text messages with suggestions about their health routines. Patients were also more likely to be active and quit smoking when compared to the control group.
The study included 700 patients with coronary heart disease, half of which received four text messages a week generated by a computer algorithm designed to be encouraging and give helpful advice. Examples of sample text messages include: “Have you gone for your walk today, Jane?” or “did you know 90% of people don’t eat the recommended daily intake of vegetables (5 servings a day)?” After six months, the difference in blood pressure between patients who received messages vs. those that did not was similar to what would have been achieved using a standard blood-pressure-lowering tablet. Body fat percentage and physical activity differences were comparable to having the patients attend a cardiac rehabilitation program.
With repeat heart attacks comprising more than a quarter of all heart attacks in the Unites States, the implications of the study are significant. What makes this study unique from similar findings in other studies is the duration of the research period and the number of patients. Other studies were conducted over a shorter time period and on a much smaller scale.
As discussed in other blog posts and confirmed in this study, text messaging has benefits relative to other forms of communication that makes it ideal for delivering health content. According to Dr. Clara Chow, the lead researcher in the study, “texts allow [doctors] to give support in bite-size chunks.” The brevity of text messages is key in ensuring recipients read the message, which is why text message open and read rates are multiples higher than other digital media, especially email. Rather than overwhelming an individual with lots of information at the time of discharge, text messaging allowed patients in the study to slowly consume and retain this information. This is analogous to employers replacing a monthly wellness newsletter with lots of information into small text messages throughout the month.