Can Text Messaging Help Diabetes Management?

Chartered Health Plan's text messaging strategy aims to help members prevent complications, avoid costly hospital visits.
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Chartered Health Plan, Inc., the oldest Medicaid managed care organization in the nation's capital, is launching a new text-messaging program for its diabetic members that will disseminate diabetes-related information on their mobile phones to keep members involved in their own care. Chartered executives also said they plan to establish personal health records for their members.

The pilot will start with 50 members and is built on ACS-America's Suniyea platform, which uses Short Message Service (SMS) on cellphones and smartphones to create health awareness. Chartered members will receive text messages with information such as when to contact a doctor, nutrition tips, interactive quizzes, and alerts on community events. Chartered Health Plan officials estimate that approximately 2,000 of their members are insulin-dependent diabetics.

Currently, Chartered executives say they make regular phone calls and have face-to-face meetings to monitor their members. By adding a text-messaging service they hope to encourage members to play a more active role in managing their condition.

Chartered will also establish personal health records for members to record their glucose readings, monitor their medication administration, and record their appointments.

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"Personal health records are an effective tool to improve health literacy and engage members more fully in their care. In the future we plan to build out this functionality with ACS-America," Karen Dale, an executive at Chartered Health Plan, told InformationWeek Healthcare.

Dale said Chartered will continue to use technology tools that improve the quality of care and reduce costs. Part of the program's objective is to improve patients' ability to manage their care and prevent complications such as blindness, which often leads to costly emergency room visits.

Dr. Richard Katz, director of the Division of Cardiology at the George Washington University Hospital, which previously partnered with Chartered Health Plan on a similar program, said in a statement: "Mobile health is the wave of the future for improved management of chronic diseases. It can be extremely popular with diabetes patients and result in reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations."

Dale said her organization intends to encourage members to share all their information with their physicians and other care providers who can offer support to address medical and psychosocial issues as well as link them to community resources.

"Our roadmap is built on two key principles: member and provider engagement, and creating an extension of our care management model," Dale said.

The District of Columbia has a substantially higher rate of diabetic patients than other areas of the country. In 2010, 10.9% of adults in D.C. were diagnosed with diabetes, compared with 8.7% nationwide.

Officials at Chartered said they will evaluate the text-messaging program later this year and have plans to expand its use among members with other diseases that can utilize text messages about their illness and track personalized messages, including appointment reminders.

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