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iMedicalApps and JMIR Publications have partnered to help disseminate interesting & innovative digital health research being done worldwide. Each article in this series will feature summaries of interesting studies to help you keep up to date on the latest in digital health research. We invite you to share your thoughts on the study in the comments section.

Hypertension health promotion via Short Message Service (SMS) at a Community Health Centre in South Africa: a mixed method study

1. What was the motivation behind your study?

Effective communication is key to public health. But in multilingual South Africa, where 70% of consultations occur across language barriers, communication in healthcare is a problem. Our research group works to address language barriers and advance access to health care. The motivation for this study was to find novel ways to communicate health information.

2. Describe your study.

In this study we delivered 90 text based messages containing relevant health information to a cohort of hypertensive patients in a poor urban setting over a 17 week period. We included language options to accommodate for the three local official languages spoken in the Western Cape province. Participants were recruited at hypertensive clubs run by community health centres.

3. What were the results of the study?

The study showed very little gains in knowledge, however they did reveal a strong positive psychological effect. Self-reported behaviour change was positive, and many participants described feeling comforted by the SMSes and feeling as if there was a vested interest in their health.

4. What is the main point that readers should take away from this study?

Although the SMSes did not improve health knowledge, they were effective in motivating positive self-reported behaviour change among hypertensive patients.

5. What was the most surprising finding from your study?

The most surprising finding was that even though a lot of the content of the SMSes was already known to patients, the SMSes still appear to have had an effect on their behaviour.

6. What are the next steps? How do you envision this work ultimately translating into clinical practice or affecting R&D?

The next steps are to trial this same intervention among the signing deaf community in Cape Town. They face considerable language barriers, and may be less likely to be aware of the general health knowledge available to hearing populations. This work also suggests that SMS interventions may have use above merely conveying new knowledge, but rather their repetitive presence may be a powerful tool for influencing changes in behaviour.

This Q&A was contributed by Damian Hacking, Researcher at the Department of Public Health and Human Rights, University of Cape Town.