A texted health reminder worked

Texting could be 🙂 for ur health.

A UC Davis study has found sending texts reminding people to put on sunscreen actually works.

The success of the simple method shows the potential behind texting as a health tool, something few health care providers have tapped into.

Published this month in the Archives of Dermatology, the study found that people who received daily reminder text messages on their mobile phones were nearly twice as likely to use sunscreen as those who did not.

“People carry their cell phones with them at all times,” said Dr. April Armstrong, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of dermatology. “So texting is an effective way for delivering messages, be it applying sunscreen or taking medications on time.”

Pointing out that texting is cheap and ubiquitous, BJ Fogg, director of Stanford’s persuasive technology lab, added, “It’s a mystery why people aren’t using texting to provide health support.”

He said texting has proved effective on a variety of health fronts: from appointment reminders to general texts extolling the virtues of exercise.

At least one local provider is catching on: Kaiser Permanente Northern California will roll out an appointment reminder texting service early next year, a spokesman said.

In the UC Davis texting and sunscreen study, 70 participants received a bottle of sunscreen equipped with an electronic sensor so researchers could track when it was opened. They were told to use it every day for six weeks, and half received daily text messages. The messages changed every day, with the first line a weather forecast and the second a reminder to put on sunscreen. Those receiving the texts put on sunscreen on average 56 percent of the time, compared with 30 percent in the group that did not receive texts.

“A lot of people say they forget to put on sunscreen. So we really targeted the forgetfulness part and used texting to develop healthy habits,” Armstrong said. She said only about 20 percent of American adults regularly use sunscreen.

Similarly, an October study in the Pediatrics journal showed text reminders effective in helping young liver transplant patients to remember to take their anti-rejection medication. Patients had to text back within an hour confirming they had taken their pills. Twelve of the 41 patients had rejection episodes before the study; during the yearlong study, only two did.