Jun 25, 2015 9:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

Text messaging may conjure up images of millennials staring into their smartphones. But doctors are starting to realize how the humble text message can benefit them and their patients in important ways.

Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia implemented a pilot program in which it used text messaging and email to confirm follow-up appointments for congestive heart failure patients. It found that patients who received messages came to their follow-up appointments more regularly and canceled less than those who didn’t.

Keeping follow-up appointments is crucial, especially for people with chronic health conditions.

“There are two main reasons,” says Rick Henriksen, MD, a family physician at University of Utah Health. “The first is that, sometimes, diagnoses take time.” Some conditions might display different symptoms a week or two later, or the doctor may need to confirm an initial hunch with lab work that takes a while to get back.

“The second reason is really to confirm that what’s going on is under control,” Henriksen says. You might feel fine, but there may be underlying issues that a doctor needs to address. 

When it comes to high blood pressure, for instance, patients might think treatment is a “set it and forget it” type of thing. It isn’t, and that’s why follow-up care is so critical. 

“The medications have side effects, so some [patients] need to have follow-up lab work,” Henriksen says. “The other risk is making sure you’re at the right level of the medication.” It takes a follow-up appointment to determine that.

And in an increasingly mobile world, text messages may just be the solution to making those appointments.

family medicine

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