Power of Cell Phones: How a Single Text Message Can Improve Refugee Health

We first started by asking how we could make an inherently inefficient process more efficient. How could we connect patients to clinics quickly, in a way that doesn’t burden resource- and time-limited clinics? We wanted to prove that a text message alone would bring a patient back to the clinic. Instead of spending time calling patients for missed appointments, could an automated text alert do the job? At $0.06 cents a text, we had found an answer.

Working with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, we have been able to successfully roll out an SMS alert system that notifies parents when they have missed vaccination appointments for their children. We had a patient who was over 200 days late for an appointment return to clinic the day after receiving an SMS alert. We cut down the average days it took a patient to get back into the clinic after missing an appointment from 14 to 1.5 days.

Vaccination rates are generally high for the UN clinics, but with the recent instability in the region, we have seen spikes in previously eliminated vaccine-preventable diseases. Because of this, we wanted to make sure that every child who had access to an UNRWA clinic got vaccinated on time. Our text alert service also allows us to identify which patients are at high-risk for missing appointments, enabling the UN to send targeted pre-appointment reminders to these patients.  

The possibilities for this technology are endless: imagine lifestyle focused text messages that help improve cardiovascular risk factors, or interventional services that supplement necessary mental health counseling  (Tweet this).

These examples of patient education and outreach need not be limited to the refugee camps. The power inherent in such a simple technology can provide people living in both villages and urban cities with just the right amount of information to maintain basic health practices in their environments.

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