Syracuse (WSYR-TV) -- Children and teens are hospitalized in the United States each year due to influenza infections. While the flu vaccine is safe and effective, just over half of children – aged six months to 17 years – were vaccinated during last year’s flu season. A new study examined whether sending parents text message reminders would increase the rate of flu vaccinations in children.
It’s often difficult to be anywhere without seeing someone talking or texting on a cell phone.
"Cell phones these days are like lifelines for parents. Many of us don't even have land lines anymore," said New York Presbyterian Hospital Patient Safety Coordinator, Oscar Pena.
Dr. Melissa Stockwell with New York’s Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center and co-authors conducted a randomized controlled trial involving more than 9,000 low-income children aged six months to 18 years. The children received medical care at four clinic sites in New York City.
"We wanted to know whether children of parents who were sent text messages would be more likely to receive an influenza vaccination than those who weren't texted,” Dr. Stockwell explained. "Many people think that the flu is just a bad cold or they think that they or their child aren't at risk for the flu."
One group of parents received text messages encouraging flu vaccinations and information about the flu. Pena, who’s a parent himself, helped researchers devise easy to understand text messages in both English and Spanish.
"Even though we may come from different backgrounds, sometimes it's important to have a generic message that anybody across the board can understand,” Pena said.
The other parents received only automated telephone reminders and access to information flyers about the flu at their clinic sites.
"Children of parents who were texted were more likely to receive their flu vaccine by the end of the flu season in the spring,” Dr. Stockwell said. "They were more likely to receive their vaccination by late fall before the flu begins circulating in the community."
Text messaging is also a helpful way for clinicians to reach families they treat with important information.
"Although this intervention worked, many children aren't vaccinated against the flu. The flu is a serious illness and it's important that children are vaccinated,” Dr. Stockwell continued.
Researchers also say that linking text messaging with electronic health records can help physicians provide improved care for their patients.