Study: Text Message Reminders Can Help Boost Flu Vaccinations

Sending parents text message reminders about influenza vaccinations could help increase immunization rates among children and adolescents, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Reuters reports.

Study Details

For the study, researchers studied 9,213 children ages six months to 18 years at four New York City community-based clinics before the start of the 2010 flu season.

All parents of children participating in the study received an automated telephone call reminding them about vaccination.

In addition, about half of the parents received text messages. The first three messages were about vaccine safety and the serious effects of flu in children. The final two messages provided information about weekly vaccine clinics held at one of the four centers.

If a child was not vaccinated by January 2011, another two texts were sent reminding parents and providing information about vaccine clinics.

Researchers personalized the texts by creating a software program that combined data from electronic health records at the clinics and New York City's immunization database (Seaman, Reuters, 4/24).

Study Findings

The study found that 43.6% of children whose parents received text messages were vaccinated by the end of the flu season in March 2011, compared with about 39.9% of children whose parents received only the phone reminder.

About 29.3% of children whose parents received text messages were vaccinated earlier in the flu season -- by November or December 2010 -- compared with 22.8% of children in the control group, according to the study.

Response to Findings

In an editorial accompanying the study, Peter Szilagyi of the University of Rochester and William Adams of Boston University wrote that although the difference in vaccination rates between the two groups was relatively small, the practice of sending text message reminders about vaccinations to parents likely will become a routine part of preventive health care.

They wrote, "At a population level, an increase of even four percentage points is important," adding, "If applied across the U.S., it could represent an additional 2.5 million children and adolescents who receive influenza vaccination" (Phend, MedPage Today, 4/24).

Melissa Stockwell -- study author and assistant professor of pediatrics and population and family health at Columbia University -- said the benefits of launching a text messaging system like the one used in the study could outweigh potential costs.

According to Reuters, researchers spent a total of $7,000 to create the system, $270 each week to monitor it and $165 to send more than 23,000 messages (Reuters, 4/24).

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