Text messaging celebrated its 25th anniversary on Sunday, December 3rd. In 1992, Neil Papworth, a British engineer, typed the message “Merry Christmas” on his PC and sent it to Richard Jarvis’s mobile phone. Jarvis could not reply to the text because mobile phones did not have texting capabilities.

Twenty five years later, texting is so popular that most Americans would rather text than talk on the phone, according to the International Smartphone Mobility Report by Infomate.

The evolution of text messaging

In 2014, the global mobile penetration reached 96% with almost 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. Short message service (SMS) — alphanumeric messages of 160 characters or fewer — is the most used interpersonal mobile communication channel. Multimedia message service (MMS), the mobile exchange of images and videos, is used less frequently.

In recent years, texting has accelerated with free mobile-messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. In the U.S. the number of active smartphones rose 15% annually from 2009-2016. In June 2017, more than 781 billion messages were passed around the country.

The growth of text messaging in healthcare

There’s little doubt that texting has influenced communication in recent years. Text messaging has also made a valuable contribution in healthcare in the last decade.

As Americans are living longer and becoming more comfortable with technology, the health care delivery system has to meet public demands. Text message communication between healthcare providers and consumers allows for timely, low cost communication.

This systematic review shows how mobile text messaging interventions (TMIs) was effective for diabetes self-management, weight loss, physical activity, smoking cessation, and medication adherence for antiretroviral therapy (ART).  

Considerations to keep in mind with using text messaging in a medical practice

Today, providers use text messages to communicate with both their patients and colleagues. Text messages need to be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) to protect patient confidentiality and the integrity of protected health information (PHI).

For healthcare providers that use text messaging to communicate with a patient, Himss suggests the following text messaging guidelines:

  • Consent:  Do not text patients or members of the public without their consent  
  • Security:  Password protect the phone you use for sending text messages. Confirm patients’ cell phone numbers.
  • Storing and deleting messages:  Delete all text messages after communication is complete and document all necessary information in a patient file
  • Message content:  A text message should not contain protected health information (PHI). Never use a first and last name in text messages.

For patients, text messaging is a means of rapid communication and they generally expect timely responses. Ensure that your patients have clear expectations about how quickly you will reply to their text. Here are best practice reminders to consider when sending a text response to a patient:

  • Use appropriate tone  
  • Be professional at all times
  • Do not use abbreviations
  • Do not use medical language that your patient will not understand  
  • Be short and concise

Mobile phones are the most accessible communication devices in our history, and text messaging is one of the most frequently used forms of mobile communication. In the last decade, healthcare has capitalized on this technology and improved patient satisfaction and health outcomes.

Through video, voice, and text chat on any smart device or personal computer, you can use the HealthTap virtual care app to connect with your patients anytime and from anywhere.

HealthTap is HIPAA compliant so all patient data is stored and encrypted on secure servers and providers can rest assured that all patient data is protected. Want to join the HealthTap virtual care movement?

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Simitha Singh Rambiritch

Simitha Singh Rambiritch is a Dentist from South Africa with a Masters in Science in Oral Medicine and Periodontology from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). She was a clinician in the South African public and private sector and an oral medicine and periodontology lecturer for dental and oral hygiene students at the Wits School of Oral Health Sciences for almost 8 years. She also authored several publications in the South African Dental Journal. Simitha was the 2013 recipient of the Margot Lachmann Fellowship, for excellence in cancer research, with a focus on early diagnostic biomarkers in premalignant and autoimmune conditions and their conversion rate to oral cancer. She was invited to present her findings at the 9th International Congress on Autoimmunity in Nice, France.

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