Is texting the proverbial wave of the future regarding heart health? A new study says yes.
This study’s findings were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Some 700 Australian heart patients participated in the study, which involved sending them information resulting in significant changes in blood pressure, as well as physical activity and cholesterol levels. It is proving to be an inexpensive, effective method of dealing with heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
Research was led by Dr. Clara Chow of the University of Sydney’s George Institute for Global Health, and built on smaller studies that connected health-related texts to physical improvement. Dr. Chow and her team of researchers randomly assigned participants to receive their usual healthcare only, or usual care along with automated “healthy” text messages. The study, entitled TEXT ME, lasted six months. Message examples included:
- Walking is cheap. It can be done almost anywhere. All you need are comfortable shoes & clothing.
- Try avoiding adding salt to your foods by using other spices or herbs.
- Studies show that stress, worry & loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease. Please talk to a health professional if you need help.
- Try identifying the triggers that make you want a cigarette & plan to avoid them.
Nearly one-third of the text message group reached “target levels” regarding four or more heart disease risk factors compared to just ten percent of the non-text group. Factors included exercising five times per week or more for at least 30 minutes, not smoking, and having blood pressure below 140 over 90.
The study wasn’t long enough to determine if heart disease risk factor improvement resulted in fewer heart attacks. Additional problems included counting on patients to report physical activity levels, and not experimenting with more text messages to see if larger improvements would result.
However, the benefits have the power to potentially “reduce risk of recurrent heart attacks by at least a quarter if they were maintained long-term,” said Chow. “We think it is really important to see if they can be repeated elsewhere in Australia and internationally, and maintained long-term.”
Dr. Chow noted her involvement with a more sizable study that involves 20 centers in Australian rural, urban, and indigenous settings. The study will find out if “healthy” text messages sent to patients provide long-lasting benefits.
"Well-conducted randomized clinical trials like TEXT ME demonstrate that mobile health interventions, even simple ones, can influence patient behaviors and improve risk profiles in the short term," remarked study co-author Dr. Zupin Eapen, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University in North Carolina. “Other text-messaging trials promoting things like weight loss and smoking cessation have shown equally as promising results.”
Dr. Eapen also said that, while there are many, many apps available to help patients monitor their heart health, few controlled studies concerning the apps’ effectiveness have been conducted.
Will text messages or apps be proven to benefit heart health in the long term? Time will certainly tell.