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Text Messages Boost Patient Outcomes

Automated text reminders about medicine and skin care improved dermatology patient outcomes in study by Partners Healthcare.

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A new study by Partners Healthcare shows that automated text messages that combine reminders about medication and educational information improve patients' compliance with treatment and self-care.

The research by the Center for Connected Health, Partners' division that conducts and studies telehealth related initiatives, found that text messages to dermatology patients that reminded individuals to take or apply their medications, as well as provided them with educational information about their ailment, improved patient outcomes.

The 25 patients receiving the daily text messages for six weeks included teenagers and adults, with a mean age of 30.5 years for the group.

At the end of the study, there was a "statistically significant" improvement in the severity of patients' skin conditions, said Dr. Joseph Kvedar, director of the center.

Patients participating in the study self-scored of the severity of their skin symptoms. Each of the patients suffers from atopic dermatitis, a common chronic skin disease, accounting for 30% of all dermatology visits for which self-care behaviors among patients is typically low, he said.

At enrollment into the trial project, 92% of the participants reported that they sometimes forgot to use their medication, and 88% said they often stopped treatment when their skin symptoms improved.

However, by the end of the study, 72% reported improved compliance to treatment. Sixty-eight percent reported an improvement in the number of self-care behaviors they routinely perform, such as avoiding harsh soaps, and nearly all -- 98% -- reported an improvement in at least one self-care behavior.

The improved compliance translated into better skin outcomes among the majority of patients. Seventy six percent of participants said their skin condition improved, and 72% reported improvements in their quality of life.

"The texting kept patient's healthcare top of mind," said Kvedar. As a result, the participants were better "motivated" to adhere to their skin care regime, he said.

In the past, similar efforts by the center involving texting patients, including automated reminders about applying sun screen, where shown to result on improves compliance, he said. The center in the past have also trialed the use of avatar coaches to remind patients about self-care, and those efforts helped boost patient compliance, he said.

"We're moving into an era where [healthcare providers] are measured and rewarded based on outcomes and quality of care," he said.

"Texting is a scalable, affordable tool" to help motivate and engage patients in positive behavior that contributes to improved outcomes, including self-care and compliance to recommended treatment for various chronic conditions, he said.

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