Simple text message reminders can save lives

Sidekick’s Linda Karlsdottir, recently published a study on the impact text message reminders can have on increased cervical screening, showing that simple text message reminders can improve the uptake of cervical cancer screening.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. Regular cervical screening can reduce the likelihood of cervical cancer by up to 90%, research shows, that regular preventative screening makes early-stage and life-saving intervention possible.

Linda’s findings mirror the massive problem of the lack of medical adherence, which contributes to almost 200,000 premature deaths in Europe and costs European governments €125 billion every year, according to OECD figures.

Sidekick’s digital therapeutics platform includes reminders, improving medication adherence, which can actually save lives. And based on Linda’s study, low-cost intervention may contribute to the effectiveness of organized screening programs.

The Sidebar sat down with Linda and asked her some questions about her findings.

The Sidebar: Please elaborate on the main findings of your study?

Linda: We found that the average attendance rate was significantly higher amongst women receiving the text message reminder (36.9% vs. 30.7%, p<0.001). SMS reminders can improve the uptake off cervical cancer screening. In today’s society, new technologies are replacing the traditional communication systems. Screening programs and other healthcare sectors are no exception to this change. The findings have demonstrated how a low-cost intervention can have an impact on people’s preventive health behavior, while respecting the autonomy of the individual to make an informed choice.

The Sidebar: Was there a notable difference between age groups, did younger women respond better to the reminders?

Linda: In general, older women are more likely to attend screening than younger women, but the text reminders increased the attendance rate in all age groups. However they were especially effective for the younger women.

The Sidebar: Do you think digital applications present a hurdle for less tech savvy users?

Linda: There are always some challenges with less tech savvy users, however the job for us is to show people the benefits of digital health tools and build a trust in the device. It’s very important to keep the digital application simple and intuitive and prompting people at the right time to use it. In time, they can see for themselves how these tools can help and start using them on daily basis.

The Sidebar: Sidekick’s platform is rooted in behavioral economics, how did you apply behavioral change in the study?

Linda: By mapping the behavior of attending screening, we are able to identify the bottlenecks in the attendance process. Most women recognize that screening is really important, and they do want to go to appointments, but often life gets in the way, other things take over and they just forget or put off making arrangements. The intention-behavior gap in screening attendance can partly be explained by time-inconsistent preferences. A large body of empirical literature shows that individuals are biased towards the present and tend to discount the future. Time-inconsistent preferences can lead to self-control problems and procrastination. Intentions to attend cervical screening may get undermined by high present discount rates. The benefits of attending screening accrue in the distant future (the ability to prevent cervical cancer), while the cost of going for cervical screening is in the present (the hassle cost of booking and attending screening). By nudging them at the right time, we remind them of booking an appointment and at the same time, reduce the hassle cost of booking the appointment.