Thursday, January 14, 2016

Southwestern Vermont Health Care is a health system providing services to residents of the Bennington and Windham Counties of Vermont, northern Berkshire County in Massachusetts, and eastern Rensselaer and Washington Counties of New York. It’s also yet another example of a healthcare provider harnessing the power of SMS. The provider is encouraging the surrounding community to make healthy choices through a new service that sends inspiring text messages about well-being.

Three separate text messages are sent to participants’ phones each week, with SVHC’s director of planning James Trimarchi remarking that the service is not just about encouraging healthy choices; it’s also about demonstrating that Southwestern Vermont Health Care really and truly cares about patients’ long-term health.

Themes and Enrollment

One example of the messaging service in action involves a text sent the day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping dates in history. The text reminded participants to choose healthy food options while out holiday shopping, as their health is more important to friends and family than gifts.

The service also utilizes themes. For example, texts about preventing and managing diabetes were sent in the first 35 weeks. One in 10 Vermont residents have diabetes, and one in three are at risk of disease development. Text messages noted that taking steps to prevent diabetes is the same as taking steps towards better health.

Enrollment is easy, and simply requires texting “enroll” to 802-768-9224. Subscribers receive a text with a link to an enrollment agreement and must text “agree.” If they no longer wish to receive the messages, all they have to do is text “stop.”

Public Health and The Power of Texting

Texting is increasingly regarded as a very powerful public health tool, and with good reason. For one thing, the act of texting is very pervasive. Compare the 65 percent of adults who reported using text message services in 2009 to the 73 percent of adults in 2011, and it’s pretty clear that more and more people are relying on texting. Texting is also pervasive in that it’s been adopted by a range of ethnic and income groups. It’s available in a variety of languages, with studies indicating minorities often having higher texting rates. This is ideal for any public health service looking to reach more minorities and ensure they’re taking charge of their health.

Additionally, people are more tethered to their mobile devices these days—many even sleep with them, according to a 2010 report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. This makes reaching people with vital health information pretty easy, as does the fact that texting is very reliable. It’s rare that people don’t receive their texts due to messages being sent over multiple network pathways instead of direct one-on-one connection lines.

Texting is a fast, affordable, highly reliable way to get health tips to the masses. It’s likely that more and more health systems will utilize healthcare texting to send tips, check-up reminders, and other useful information in the coming years.