Text messages could reduce deaths caused by Australia’s No.1 killer

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All the studies and all the treatments in the world, and it’s a simple text message that could save your life, says new research published in Open Heart journal.

Text message interventions could help to lower blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) in those with heart disease, according to a systematic review conducted by researchers at Deakin University and the University of Sydney.

The researchers evaluated nine types of text message interventions involving 3779 participants, testing the impact on two key measures of disease risk – blood pressure and BMI.

They found that implementing text message interventions to 50,000 patients with coronary heart disease each year could lead to 563 fewer heart attacks and 361 fewer strokes. The technology could also save the health system around $10.56 million over the lifetime of these patients.

“Text messaging interventions offer good value for money to reduce heart disease risk as they’re effective, cheap and could be implemented at scale,” said lead researcher and former cardiologist Dr Shariful Islam.

“While the 0.2 reduction in BMI and a 1.3mm reduction in blood pressure we found in our review may not sound like a lot, this adds up to quite a large impact when you scale it up across the Australian population.”

It is estimated that nearly 600,000 Australians alive today will develop heart disease.

“Heart disease is the number one killer in Australia and around the world, and deaths due to cardiovascular disease have steadily increased globally over the last four decades,” said Dr Islam.

“Common and modifiable risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and physical inactivity contribute substantially to the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.

“Yet identifying low-cost, scalable and effective strategies to target all of these to prevent cardiovascular disease remains a major challenge. It’s also important to identify interventions that can reduce multiple risk factors at the same time.”

Text message interventions promote behavioural change and work towards increasing motivation and goal-setting. They also assist with medication reminders and advice on lifestyle behaviours that could help lower the risk of heart disease, such as physical activity and a healthy diet.

“As a clinician, there’s often not time to give extensive advice about things like diet and physical activity, as they may have less than 15 minutes with their patients,” Dr Islam said.

“Text messaging can provide additional support that a person might need. It’s not an alternative but a value-add, which can be especially beneficial in areas where people have less access to face-to-face support.”

Dr Islam is undertaking further research to explore the use of text messaging to influence behavioural change to reduce heart disease risk. The researchers hope to implement a nation-wide program to support health systems across the country.

Would a regular text message reminder help you stay on track health-wise?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

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