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Research Findings

Texting helps people get sun-smart

Texting helps people get sun-smart

Texting people to remind them to wear sunscreen daily actually works, research shows

People who got text messages each morning with a brief local weather report followed by a prompt like “slap on some sunscreen today” were twice as likely to use sunscreen as people who didn’t get the texts, Dr. April W. Armstrong of the University of California-Davis Health System in Sacramento and her colleagues found.

Study participants who received the reminders still went without sunscreen a lot of the time — about 4 in 10 days, on average, the researchers report in the Archives of Dermatology.

Nevertheless, Armstrong noted in an interview, the findings show that “we can use simple low cost technologies such as text message reminders to improve healthy habits.”

Getting people to take their pills or run on medicated cream as prescribed is a perennial problem for doctors, she added, and sunscreen is no exception. Overall, just one in five Americans report using sunscreen regularly, Armstrong and her team note in their report.

The researchers recruited 70 text-savvy adults to enroll in their study, and then randomly assigned them to receive the text message reminders or a control group who didn’t get the reminders. The text reminders were worded differently every day, to avoid “message fatigue.”

All of the study participants also were given sunscreen dispensers with embedded electronic sensors that sent the date and time back to a central server every time the container was opened. “We could actually track in real time when people are using their sunscreen,” Armstrong explained.

Over the course of the 42-day study, people in the text-message group used sunscreen on about 24 days, on average, for an adherence rate of 56 percent, compared to about 13 days for the group who didn’t receive reminders, or a 30 percent adherence rate.

Sixty-nine percent of the people who got the reminders said they would want to keep using them, while 89 percent said they’d recommend the system to other people.

The study shows that “even people who know they are being monitored do not use their sunscreen well,” Bridget V. Nolan and Dr. Steven R. Feldman of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and colleagues point out in an accompanying editorial.

But the findings also hint, they say, that “new technologies may provide additional means by which we can help our patients use recommended treatments better.”

Archives of Dermatology, November 2009.


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