Well Being — 16 February 2012
Can Texting Save Lives?

The dangers of texting are well known – but researchers at Nova Southeastern University want to know if texting can save lives, too. 

By NANCY McVICAR

Texting can be dangerous ­­– even deadly ­­– if you are driving.  But researchers at Nova Southeastern University are using texting in a way that may actually save lives.

In three separate studies involving underserved or uninsured patients with HIV or Type II diabetes, patients are getting regular text messages sent to their mobile phones reminding them to take their medications.

This is particularly important for the HIV patients, says Shara Elrod, an NSU assistant professor of pharmacy practice, because missing the prescribed medication for only a few days allows the virus to mutate, making that pill ineffective.

“They can’t ever take that pill again. HIV patients are a very special population that requires constant reminding of the importance of taking their medications, because adherence is really important,” Elrod says. “If that pill they were taking once a day stops working, they may have to start taking five or six pills a day instead.”

The research at NSU’s Center for Consumer Health Informatics Research (www.cchir.com), which opened in October, is the first of its kind in the country and on the forefront of a nationwide push to harness the resources of the Internet and mobile devices to help patients maintain optimum health.

“This is something that’s being done to engage patients, empower patients, and it really is gaining tremendous steam,” says Kevin Clauson, the center’s director and an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.

At a conference on the subject a year ago, both Bill Gates and Ted Turner attended, Clauson says. “That’s how much interest there is in this.”

The HIV study, led by Elizabeth Sherman, an assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, was the first to enroll patients.

“So far the response has been very positive,” Clauson says. “Some of the patients were nearing the end of their six months in the study and they were asking, ‘well, what happens after six months? Who’s going to text me then?’ They were concerned, so we found a free program that would continue the texting, and we don’t cut them off cold turkey.”

The texts sent to HIV patients are general in nature, saying “It’s that time,” or “Time for your health,” Clauson says.

“You may not have possession of your phone all the time, so we wouldn’t want [to send] a message with the name of an HIV drug,” he says. “It’s a privacy issue.”

Elrod is helping with the HIV study and is leading the first Type II diabetes study involving 130 patients at five of the Memorial system’s primary care centers.

The third study, at NSU’s Clinic Pharmacy, is just getting underway and will enroll 160 patients, some who won’t get texts, some who get reminders to take their medication, and some  who will get the texts and be able to respond with questions or say they are out of their medication.

At first physicians were skeptical that their [diabetes] patients, who are mostly middle-aged, even had cell phones or were comfortable with texting, but so far only one patient could not be enrolled because of lack of a cell phone, Elrod says.

“Now the physicians are excited about what we’re doing and grateful that we’re doing this,” she says. “They see it as a way to help their patient.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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