NIH using text messages for several health information projects

According to a recent article from the Washington Free Beacon, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is in the middle of a project aimed at helping alcoholics through text messaging. The goal is to create tailored adaptive text message or short message service (SMS) intervention for individuals interested in stopping or reducing how much they drink.

"Despite the significant consequences of problem drinking (PD), most persons with alcohol problems never seek formal treatment," the grant for the project reads. "While the emergence of internet based interventions (IBIs) has expanded access and brief intervention opportunities to problem drinkers, traditional IBIs suffer from high attrition, limited ability to proactively meet individuals where PD occurs and adapt to real-time needs."

This is part of a larger movement from the NIH to create and study adaptive mobile interventions. There are several other current projects that have a similar format of text messages. These include weight loss, living with HIV and quitting smoking during pregnancy.

These projects have been run over the last few years and have cost more than $5.5 million.

Dr. Frederick Muench, an assistant professor in Columbia University's psychiatry department, is heading up the alcohol study and said that tweaks are constantly being made because they are still trying to understand the unique medium of texting.

For example, it has been discovered that 75 percent of recipients prefer receiving statements to questions. Also a majority prefer "non-textese," meaning there is better feedback with proper grammar and that all-caps should be used very sparingly.

It is clear that the use of an SMS service has a place, and more organizations are starting to get on the bandwagon.