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Davis

Davis, California

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Texting improves healthy habits

A new study indicates that text message reminders really work.

April Armstrong, a researcher with the UC Davis Health System, found that adults who received text message reminders to put on sunscreen were nearly twice as likely to do so.

“As a dermatologist we see a lot of people with skin cancer, and we found that even though a lot of people know they need to put on sunscreen there’s often a huge gap between what they know they should do and what they actually do,” Armstrong said.

Seventy adult participants were split into two groups – those who receive text reminders and those who do not. Participants were given electronic sunscreen dispensers in order to record when they applied sunscreen.

Armstrong was curious to find a way to encourage people to use sunscreen more regularly.

“When we approach anybody at any time, probably the three things that they have are their keys, their wallet and their cell phone,” she said.

The goal was to use something that could inexpensively reach people wherever they are, Armstrong said. And thus: the text message.

The texts sent out had the weather report and then a reminder to put on sunscreen. These reminders were anything from “slap on some sunscreen” to “sunscreen is your friend.”

The two components were sent together to avoid text message fatigue, Armstrong said.

“[The study] is just an aspect of how we’re going to utilize electronic means of communication to be in close contact with our patients,” Davis family physician Dr. Steven J Smith, M.D. said.

In the 42-day study, Armstrong found that people in the group who received text reminders used sunscreen 56 percent of the time, while people who didn’t receive text messages used sunscreen 30 percent.

Despite applying sunscreen nearly twice as often as the control group, the participants who received daily text message reminders still didn’t use sunscreen 44 percent of the time.

“Sometimes, you look at your text but you forget to do it anyways,” first-year biology major Amanda Diep said.

Armstrong is unaware of any current doctors who use text messages to remind patients to take their medication. But some doctors are reminding people to come to their appointments via text messaging, she said.

Smith currently uses automated voicemails to remind patients of upcoming appointments. He would consider using text messages if there was a way to make the texts automated, he said.

“Utilizing technology to communicate with patients, even do some treatment with patients, is a growing aspect of medicine and the healthcare delivery system,” Smith said. “It’s stuff you’re going to see a lot more of in the future because we have to find more efficient ways to take care of people and communicate with people.”

Smith is looking at how to use technology to connect with patients, such as doing visits over e-mail and other web-based communication.

“Electronic means of communication will need to be used more and more, especially with the possibility of universal healthcare.”

JANELLE BITKER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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