SVMC to send text messages to support community's health

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BENNINGTON — When it comes to remembering to hydrate throughout the day, something as simple as a text message alert could assist in that reminder. Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) has launched a text message service to support community members by sending health and wellness tips and suggestions weekly.

The service acts as a friend giving directions for life, just as a global positioning system (GPS) does when navigating. If a wrong turn is made, similar to forgetting to drink water or take medication, the GPS or text message is a crutch to make the right decisions.

"This is trying to help you in the moment, in the time when you actually are trying to take the left turn or go straight, telling you the left turn is the way to go," James Trimarchi, SVHC's director of planning said. "So its real-time, health tips, right when you need it."

Three times per week, a healthy and inspiring text message is sent to those who sign up for the messages, usually around mid-day.

"These are not medical information texts," Trimarchi said. "They're more about navigating your own life choices and behavior choices towards health."

During initial planning, the health correspondent targeted diabetes groups, Trimarchi said, but then it was noticed that the texts weren't specific to diabetes. An example already used regarded swapping salt with black pepper when preparing dinner, which is a tip most individuals could use, with or without diabetes.

"We make them simple enough so that hopefully, people won't have too many question," Rory Price, Americorps VISTA volunteer said. "Monday introduces the theme and then Wednesday is a reminder text or a specific."

The final text of the week on Friday aims to make a reminder more personal by giving the user responsibility, such as suggesting a daily reminder or physical note to drink water at a certain point during the day.

Price has worked with SVMC's Diabetes Educator Jill Robart in generating texts linked to the disease.

This new simple service stemmed from a Stanford researched program called READY4K!, in which mothers received text message tips about teaching their children their ABCs and prepping them for kindergarten, according to the report from Stanford news.

The research showed that the more parents engaged in home literacy activities, the higher their child/children scored on literacy assessments. It also brought parents and children together more frequently and put more focus on the growth of the youth.

After researching with Stanford, Trimarchi said that he didn't have to worry about whether or not the texts would cost the user money on the cell-phone carrier's side because most holders have some sort of plan that includes texting.

With the software being used to disperse the texts, operators cannot see user's phone numbers, Trimarchi said. Price uses a computer to manually send out the messages.

The idea is to also reach the younger generations in the community, who are typically consumed with technological devices.

"From a technological standpoint, doing this 10 years ago wouldn't have made sense," Ray E. Smith, SVMC's director of marketing and communications said. "From the affordability standpoint, so many people now have access to a mobile device. It's like fishing where the fish are. It's a way for the health system to look at a younger population. We're looking at a different generation within our community."

It's difficult to measure the impact the service will have on its users because of the lack of tangible data, Trimarchi claimed.

"We really don't know who's signed up for the program and can't go into their medical record to track if their blood pressure has lowered because of the texts," he said. "We're doing this based on kind of good faith, that if we send a text about drinking a glass of water to 50 people, and two of them drink a glass of water, then the overall health of our community has increased a little."

"Some of it isn't necessarily measurable," Price said. "Some texts are simply reassuring like 'keep your head up, you're doing good.'"

During the holidays last month, Trimarchi said a text message sent out asked users to make a list of things they were stressed about and then write down one solution to address one of the stressors.

"It's exactly the kind of contact and vice you might get from your GPS, yes you're going in the right direction, but did you notice the speed limit is 30 and you're going 50? Your GPS helped you," Trimarchi said. "That's the way we're thinking about this, very abstract."

Price and Trimarchi have queued up to 35 weeks worth of text messages and hope to explore other frequent issues in the community like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"We're here to care about you, like a friend," he said. "We could all use a little advice everyday."

To sign up, text "enroll" to 802-768-9224, follow the instructions and reply with "agree." To halt the service at any time, text "stop."

Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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