Sending teenage girls text message reminders about appointments for birth control injections can improve adherence to contraception in a notoriously noncompliant age group, according to a small US study.
The study authors said their results highlighted the “largely untapped potential” of texting as a means of routine communication between clinicians and teenage patients.
They argued that mobile phone use among the young represented a “low-hanging fruit” opportunity to reach patients directly, bypassing traditional mail and phone call reminders.
“Text messaging can help overcome some issues that teens struggle with and pose challenges for the clinicians”
The study involved 100 girls and young women, ages 13-21, receiving long-acting reversible contraception, via injection, every three months and followed over nine months.
Half of the patients received standard automated calls on their home phones from nurses reminding them of their appointment, while the other half received personalised daily text messages starting three days prior to their monthly appointment, asking them to text back with responses.
The mobile phone group also received periodic texts with tips on condom use to prevent sexually transmitted infections, suggestions for maintaining healthy weight and messages urging them to call their nurse with any questions or concerns.
Overall, 87% attended the first of three injections, 77% completed the second cycle, and 69% came to clinic for the third and final injection.
Those who received text message reminders were more likely to show up for their injections on time than those who had traditional reminders – 68% compared with 56% for first appointment, and 68% compared with 62% for second appointments.
However, the differences between the two groups disappeared by the third appointment.
The authors said the timing of injections was critical to how well they work, with protection dwindling if injections were spaced too far apart.
“When teens show up for their follow-up injections is just as important as whether they show up,” said lead study author Dr Maria Trent from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Balitmore.
“Our findings suggest that text messaging can help overcome some issues that teens struggle with and pose challenges for the clinicians caring for them, such as keeping clinical appointments, adhering to a tight treatment schedule and regularly taking prescription medications,” she said.
The study results have been published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.