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What impact can text messaging have on the treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections?

Background

Researchers at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) are hoping to determine whether text messaging is a useful tool for the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STI).

The capacity for instant communication is increasing worldwide, and technologies like text messaging and social media are changing how we interact with each other. These changes have implications for health care, as contact between patients and providers may soon include mobile devices like cell phones.

The use of mobile devices for health care is known as mHealth, or mobile health. Care providers can apply mHealth in a variety of ways, such as:

  • providing test results
  • sending appointment reminders
  • communicating with patients about health questions or concerns

Lester et al. studied the effect that text messaging support may have on people living with HIV.[1] The intervention lead to improved viral suppression and adherence to antiretroviral medication in multiple clinics in Kenya. This and other studies have demonstrated that text message interventions are effective. However, research conducted on some mHealth interventions has shown no effect. Therefore, there is a need to summarize the current evidence in the literature to help illustrate which types of mHealth interventions are best suited for the prevention and treatment of STI.

Methods

To answer this question, the mHealth research team at the BCCDC is conducting a systematic review. The purpose of this review will be to summarize the evidence regarding text messaging interventions for the prevention and care of STI.  A systematic review considers all of the relevant data available from literature, and provides the highest level of evidence about a particular question.

To learn more about the methods used by the mHealth team, you can read their protocol.[2] In summary, two independent reviewers have conducted a systematic search of the literature to obtain qualitative and quantitative research that is related to text message interventions for STI. The next step involves assessing the quality of the relevant research, and if possible, combining the results to identify the overall effect shown by text message interventions.

Implications for practice

By conducting a thorough search and systematic assessment of the evidence, the mHealth team will use the results of the systematic review to determine whether text messaging interventions are a good choice for improving STI prevention and treatment.

Additionally, the review may highlight particular settings or populations that are best suited to receive a text message intervention, helping to inform when text messaging would be most appropriately used to improve health outcomes.

References

  1. Lester RT, Ritvo P, Mills EJ, Kariri A, Karanja S, Chung MH, Jack W, Habyarimana J, Sadatsafavi M, Najafzadeh M, Marra CA, Estambale B, Ngugi E, Ball TB, Thabane L, Gelmon LJ, Kimani J, Ackers M, Plummer FA. Effects of a mobile phone short message service on antiretroviral treatment adherence in Kenya (WelTel Kenya1): a randomised trial. Lancet 2010, 376:1838–1845.
  2. Lunny C, Taylor D, Memetovic J, Wärje O, Lester R, Wong T, Ho K, Gilbert M, Ogilvie G. Short message service (SMS) interventions for the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections: a systematic review protocol. Syst Review 2014, 3:7.

Categories: New knowledge

Search related content: mHealth, prevention, STI

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