Supportive text messages have been shown to reduce the pain experienced by patients suffering from chronic pain. Earlier this year, for instance, a study found that texting during minor surgeries can alleviate the pain experienced by patients. Now, in a recent study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain, researchers found that when patients who suffer from chronic pain received supportive text messages every day, they experienced significant reductions in pain compared to patients who did not receive any text messages. Here, we’ll identify why text messaging is an effective tool for helping patients and present ways in which healthcare providers can use SMS at their own practice.
Can text messaging provide social support to patients?
Ten researchers from around the nation – including Cornell University, the University of California, San Francisco, and Weill Cornell University – collaborated on a four-week study titled “Piloting a Text Message-based Social Support Intervention for Patients with Chronic Pain: Establishing Feasibility and Preliminary Efficacy.” The researchers wanted to find out whether offering patients social support via text messaging could alleviate some of the symptoms of a chronic pain disorder. They recruited 68 patients with chronic pain disorders and split them into two groups. One group received two supportive text messages a day at random times, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, alongside their regularly schedule pain treatment. The second group received their regular pain treatment, but no text messages.
Participants were asked to download a mobile app in order to record their pain levels twice daily. The results were promising: patients who received the supportive text messages reported a pain reduction, while those who did not receive the messages did not report any reductions in pain.
Jamie Guillory, a scientist at the research institute RTI International and lead author on the study, confirmed that “Just receiving two messages a day that included simple, encouraging phrases was enough to decrease perceived pain levels in chronic pain patients.”
Why do text messages change the perception of pain for patients?
Consistent support – in this case, for instance, social support – is beneficial for any patient trying to adapt to a new lifestyle. This principle applies not just to patients managing chronic pain, but to any condition where patients want to gradually change their personal behavior or expectations. That’s why text messaging is so helpful. It provides reliable support to patients where they’re already at – their mobile phones. Most people have their phones on them 24/7. A text message can be read and responded to from anywhere, making SMS a much quicker and convenient support system than phone calls, emails, or even face-to-face doctor’s appointments.
Furthermore, while consistent support is important, showing patients that they matter and that people care about their well being is another essential part of patient care. Text messaging is the perfect tool for this reason as well, because it is inherently personal – SMS provides the one-to-one channel that offers patients a sense of intimacy without intruding on their daily lives.
Four ways to use text messaging to provide ongoing patient support
Sending supportive messages to patients is just one way that healthcare providers can offer support to patients with chronic conditions. Here are four other ways to complement patient care with SMS.
- Texting can help patients create a schedule, and stick to it. Think of text messaging as a sustained conversation, rather than a series of one-time alerts. In addition to helping patients feel better via social support, healthcare providers can establish a long-term customized message schedule to help patients manage their daily expectations and set realistic goals.
- Texting can remind patients of medication schedules. Text message reminders have been shown to significantly improve medication adherence among patients. This is especially useful for patients who have a complicated medication regime. Text messaging can also be used to notify patients when a prescription is due for a refill so that they have ample time to make a trip to the pharmacy without having to worry about missing a dose.
- Texting can help patients schedule regular check-ups. Instead of having chronic patients go through the hassle of setting up appointments through phone calls, have your staff set up a simple text message program that makes the process easier and saves time for both parties.
- Texting allows patients to reach a healthcare professional at any time. Healthcare providers can offer a 24/7 live SMS chat service that allows patients to quickly reach a healthcare professional at any time with questions or concerns regarding their condition.
Overall, text messaging’s ability to offer an intimate and non-intrusive method for providing consistent support to patients managing a chronic condition. It is a multifunctional tool that healthcare providers can utilize to help patients in the long term in all aspects of their care. If you’d like to learn more, please contact us.