How Automated Text Messages Could Prevent Colon Cancer

As reported in Forbes Magazine, Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are exploring a new tool for encouraging patients to comply with health care recommendations for colonoscopies, an invasive procedure that screens for colon cancer, a lethal and common form of cancer: texting.
Colorectal cancer or cancer of the colon is the third most common forms of cancer, a cancer that can often be lethal. In particular, those in the rare disease community who have are particularly susceptible to the cancer, and have to be more scrupulous in monitoring for theirhealth.

Cancer colorectal screenings

Cancer colorectal screenings are used to spot the symptoms and can be vital for spotting the disease as early as possible. It is an invasive procedure that involves looking into the large intestine. In the procedure, the bowel must be cleaned out beforehand, and then a doctor use an instrument to check for health. These screenings are recommended for the general population starting at age 45 and continuing every 10 years until age 75, whereafter the patient decides with their doctor how to proceed going forwards. For those with bowel related diseases, it’s recommended to get these screenings earlier and more frequently due to their heightened risk. However, despite the frequency and direness of the cancer, one of the biggest obstacles to prevention and early treatment is non-compliance to screening standards. Close to a third of Americans do not get the screenings as frequently as recommended.

The Research Using Text Reminders

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study in which patients who  were already scheduled for procedures were sent automated text messages a week before the scheduled procedure to remind them of the appointment, the details of the visit, the materials they needed to bring, the instructions of what they must do before the appointment, and to encourage any questions. They were then sent text messages and were also able to text replies and receive follow up answers. Their control group were given the standard method of a phone call and instructions sheet.

The Results

These texts proved to improve the rate of patients following through with getting colonoscopies from 62% to 90%. Additionally, 75% of the patients who received the option to ask questions via text did so, getting responses from office staff. The only feature that did not improve was compliance with bowel prep prior to the appointment.
The researchers see text reminders and instructions as a method of communication thats more convenient for users as it can be seen at any time and provides more frequent reminders. Additionally,cheaper and easier for the health system. Best of all for everyone, it is overall more effective at getting patients monitored to catch the cancer early.
The use of technology is increasingly playing a role in health care, not only in research for patients but for communication. Surely, we will see much more of this type of innovation shortly.


What other ways do you think technology will be used to influence patient communication? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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