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Texting Parents Gets Children to Office for Second Dose Vaccine

NEW YORK – Need pediatric patients to come in for services such as follow-up vaccines? Try texting their parents.

A study published recently in the journal Pediatrics found that was an effective way to get caregivers to bring in children for a second dose of influenza vaccine.

In fact, researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center find that sending text message reminders increased compliance with the second dose of the vaccine by the end of the season as well as brought children in sooner to be vaccinated.

The effect was even greater when educational information on the importance of the second dose of influenza vaccine was embedded into the text messages compared to a written reminder or a conventional text message telling families when and where to go, according to the report.

For the study, the researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial during the 2012-2013 influenza season in three community-based pediatric clinics, affiliated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in northern Manhattan.

Participants included children – ranging from 6 months old to 8 – who were in need of a second dose of influenza vaccine that season. All of the in 660 families had cell phones with texting capabilities. In addition, most of the families were Latino and publicly-insured with nearly three-quarters (71.9%) believing that their child was at least somewhat protected from influenza after one dose.

The study placed the children into three groups:

  • One with an “educational" text message,
  • One with a "conventional" text message, and
  • One with a "written reminder-only" reminder provided at the time of the child’s first influenza vaccine.

Children in the educational text message reminder group were significantly more likely to receive a second dose of influenza vaccine, 72.7%, than both those in the conventional text message reminder group, 66.7%, and written reminder-only, 57.1%, groups, according to the results.

Researchers suggest that it can be an effective way for physician practices to communicate with other age patients, as well.

"Text message programs like these allow for healthcare providers to care for their patients even when they are not in front of them in the office, somewhat like a modern day house call," said principal investigator Melissa Stockwell, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Medical Center.

Parents told researchers they liked the text messages and saw them as helpful because they acted as reminders, providing information in an efficient way that did not require talking with anyone. They also said the text reminders demonstrated someone "cared."

Almost two-thirds, 60.8%, of parents reported the reminder was either the main reason or part of the reason they brought their child for a second dose, and 70.1% said that it affected bringing their child sooner.