Fighting Diabetes Via Text Messaging

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One of the best uses of technology isn't when some pressed-pants goon comes out and dazzles the technorati with another gadget that they've convinced themselves that they need. It's when someone (or a group of someones) manage to find an innovative use of this technology to actually improve the quality of people's lives in a meaningful way. D.C. Charter Health Plan, the oldest Medicaid managed care organization in Washington, D.C., falls into the latter category with their contribution: a text messaging program that alerts people with diabetes with advice on managing their disease.

The program, which is initially being offered to 50 of Chartered's members, sends people brief tips about living with diabetes as part of a case management program that also includes face-to-face support. Research shows that people who actively participate in their care can more effectively manage a chronic disease like diabetes. In many cases, however, people with diabetes find it difficult to understand and manage the disease (honestly, that could also be said about the bulk of medical literature in general). The texting program, though, hopes to counter that wall of confusion by empowering patients with more easily understood information.

"Mobile health is the wave of the future for improved management of chronic disease," said Richard Katz, M.D., director of the division of cardiology at the George Washington University Hospital, which previously partnered with Chartered Health Plan on a similar program. "It can be extremely popular with diabetes patients and result in reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations."

The program is the culmination of Chartered's effort to actively engage its diabetes-stricken members with regular telephone calls and mailings in addition to face-to-face time. By adding a text messaging element, Chartered is adopting to one of the most oft-used forms of communication these days in hopes enabling members to play a more active role in the management of their disease.

The texting program will send messages to members that encourages them to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and instead, to schedule annual appointments with their primary care providers as well as get annual eye and foot exams. It also helps people take their diabetes medicine appropriately and make lifestyle changes to better support their health.

The program will be evaluated later this year with an eye toward potential expansion.

Do you think communication tools like Chartered's text messaging program can be effective in helping to promote better health? Would you use something like this? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below.

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