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Can Text Messaging Boost Prenatal Care?

Anyone who has been up close and personal with pregnancy, be it their own or a family member's, friend's, or partner's, knows that it's a lot to keep track of. After all, a pregnant person needs to meet the care demands of two bodies, and must heed very particular self-care and lifestyle guidelines in order to do so. A major interest in developing modern health solutions is helping young people look after the health of themselves and their pregnancies.

Enter text messaging. Using SMS to promote public health is not new; the breadth of health applications that text messages have been applied to is impressive. And it seems like an especially good option to help young people, especially underserved patients, meet the demands of a healthy pregnancy. We hardly need mention the ubiquity of cell phones and the depth of our entanglement in our devices, and this rings true even among underserved patients, who are most in need of prenatal care support; a survey at Massachusetts General Hospital indicated that about 65% of underserved patients own mobile phones.

So, how can text messaging help boost prenatal care? A 2012 pilot at the Lynn Community Health Center (LCHC) in Lynn, MA sought to find out. Providers at LCHC enrolled 25 young patients between the ages of 14 and 32, with an average age of 22, in the program, with 96% of them being enrolled during their first or second trimester of pregnancy. 17 patients preferred to receive texts in Spanish, and eight preferred English.

Patients in the LCHC study received up to three messages per week during their pregnancies. The texts varied in content, seeking to offer advice and education, reminders of important events like appointments, motivation and support, and a solid connection to their team at the health center. The messages were only outbound, but several texts offered a phone number at which patients could reach their team should they need any further support.

Patients received two surveys that allowed them to reflect on the program, both six months into the trial and after year-long period, when the study had come to completion. The results are staggering.

The text messages were very effective at reaching patients; 100% of participants reported reading all or most of the messages. Patients were also very satisfied with the messages. Three quarters of participants felt the amount of texts they received from the pilot was "just right," 95% found the program helpful, and 100% said they would recommend it to pregnant patients. Notably, patients reported that the program helped them exercise good self- and fetal care, like remembering to take vitamins, and made them feel supported and cared for throughout their pregnancies.

Though a small study, the trial at the Lynn Community Health Center offers robust and promising results for the future of pregnancy. SMS is a very easy and affordable way to connect to patients, and given the success of the pilot program, it is clear that text messaging holds great power and promise for the future of prenatal care.

About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage, Inc. a software company for communication software solutions. http://www.notepage.net

 


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