Text message reminders for flu shots?

May 3, 2012

A new study looks at using text messages to remind families to have their children vaccinated for seasonal influenza. Could text messaging make a difference in a vaccination rate that is barely more than half overall and considerably lower in low-income populations?

A new study looks at using text messages to remind families to have their children vaccinated for seasonal influenza.

Follow-up on findings that text messages are effective reminders that help get more kids vaccinated in general, a study concerned specifically with flu shots found that even in a low-income urban population, text message reminders are associated with a higher rate of influenza vaccination.

The study was conducted during the 2010-2011 influenza season in New York City among a randomized sample of 9,213 children and adolescents aged 6 months to 18 years, using an immunization registry-linked text messaging system with education-related messages.

Participants were evenly allocated between an intervention group that received a series of 5 weekly flu shot text-message reminders, each personalized and sent in English or Spanish, and a usual-care group that received a flu-shot reminder through an automated telephone message to the home.

Among those receiving the text messages, the influenza vaccination rate was between 3% and 4% higher, depending on type of analysis.

Researchers were interested in text messaging because previous studies of traditional mail and telephone reminders for routine vaccinations have not been successful in low-income pediatric and adolescent populations. Allaying concerns that a low-income community might be deprived of needed technology or access, the researchers cited findings that 92% of low-income families had cell phones; 96% of those were able to receive text messages; and 81% had unlimited plans.

They also noted that cell phone numbers tend to be more stable over a 6-month period than a home address or noncellular telephone numbers. In addition, unlike calls to a home telephone, text messages reach the intended recipient, and the information can be saved for future use.

In the United States, only 51% of those aged 6 months to 17 years were vaccinated in the 2010-2011 influenza season. In this study, 43.6% of those in the text-message group were vaccinated compared with 39.9% in the usual-care group.

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