Could SMS revolutionize healthcare?

By: Shanna Freeman

Text W Ur Doctor?

You exchange text messages with your friends, your family and maybe your co-workers, but your doctor?
You exchange text messages with your friends, your family and maybe your co-workers, but your doctor?
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In 2011, the Department of Human Health Services helped support the launch of a program called Text4baby, which sends free health information and links to resources to mothers via SMS during their pregnancies and through their baby's first year of life. Researchers at the University of California San Diego and Cal State San Marcos University evaluated the program in November 2011 and found promising results. Most moms who signed up said that they learned valuable information, appreciated the reminders to make appointments and immunizations, and talked to their doctors about topics sent to them.

Other ways to use SMS include facilitating better communication in the healthcare industry. Many doctors' offices will communicate with you via e-mail, but have you ever texted with your doctor? One of the issues at stake when it comes to healthcare professionals and texting is HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The act essentially protects the privacy of your health information, which is more of a concern than ever with the conversion to electronic files. TigerTextPRO has a text messaging service that encrypts information and claims to be HIPAA-compliant, so it can be used by health professionals and staff. It's faster than a phone call, and we all know that time can be of the essence when a doctor is on the way to the hospital.


Many doctors are also using text messages to answer patient questions, give information on how to manage a specific condition and remind patients of appointments or when to take medication. But again, it's important that physicians safeguard any private information sent via text just as they would in a phone call, or they could face lawsuits.

It's impossible to cover all the ways that text messages are being used in healthcare, but I'll end with a few really interesting ones. How about cutting down on your wait time in the ER or at least knowing what you're in for? ER Texting is a company that sends you wait times, directions and other information about the nearest hospital emergency rooms (if they participate) when you send a single text with a code. The possibilities don't just apply to those of us living in industrialized countries, either. Even many people living in countries with almost no healthcare infrastructure have basic cell phones or access to them. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for example, the CEO of a non-profit called Medic Mobile coordinated with local and other relief forces so that any victim needing assistance could text a special code for free. The company has since developed a way to classify and categorize messages by urgency and need, and it operates programs in more than 20 countries.