In such a technologically savvy world, text messaging has become a faceted form of communication, and now it may have found a home in medicine. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center and the Mailman School of Public Health tested just how much power text messages could have on vaccination rates during flu season. They published their findings in the journal Pediatrics.

During the 2012 to 2013 influenza season, text message reminders were sent out to parents after their children received their initial flu vaccination. Children need a second dose of the vaccine to protect them against the virus, and the researchers found a text message reminder increased follow-up rates. When educational information explaining the importance of the second dose was included in the text message reminder, parents were actually more likely to bring their kids back to the doctor for round two.

"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 the study’s lead author Melissa Stockwell, assistant professor of population and family health at the Mailman School of Public Health and assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Medical Center, in a press release. "Even in children who ultimately receive two doses in a season, the time interval between doses is often beyond the recommended 28 days. This leaves many unprotected when the virus begins circulating."

Researchers focused on three pediatric clinics affiliated with Manhattan’s New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center. At the time of the study, children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years old, from 660 different families, were evaluated for second-dose flu shot visits. Parents who received an educational text message were 72.7 percent more likely to bring their child back for the second dose. Those who received a simple text reminder were 66.7 percent more likely, and those who received a written reminder from their pediatrician’s office were 57.1 percent more likely.

"This randomized controlled trial provides valuable information for establishing best practices for influenza vaccine text message reminders,” the study’s authors wrote. “Important next steps will be to assess the impact of text message vaccine reminders in other populations as well as for other vaccines.”

Parents have so many different things to keep track of, from raising a healthy, active, and socially acclimated child to making sure their shots are scheduled in time. Reminders are keys to achieving the highest success rate, and cell phones have become a parent’s personal assistant, with text messages as their voice.

Source: Stockwell M. Pediatrics. 2014.