Text Messaging Program May Aid in Treatment of Substance Use Disorders
A study which tested the results of a new text messaging system for individuals dealing with substance use disorders is showing promising results for clients of Preferred Family Healthcare's Disease Management program.
The study, conducted by Preferred Family Healthcare, St. Louis University School of Medicine and Epharmix Research Center, involved the use of a messaging service designed by Epharmix, a St. Louis-based digital health company.
Mike Push, statewide director for PFH Disease Management program, said the Technology Assisted Care Coordination (TACC) Project, was funded by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Twenty-one clients from the St. Louis area participated in the program as part of the study which began in December 2016.
The goal of the TACC Project is to improve the efficacy of PFH's services and reduce costs in three ways:
Triage patients and alert care managers to the patients who need the most help.
Improve the efficiency of the communication between caregivers and clients
Give our clients a tool which allows them to immediately reach out for help in a crisis situation.
The text messaging system allows care managers to monitor the clients on a daily basis through the use of text messages sent throughout the day asking questions such as: Have you used any drugs today or have you had the urge to use drugs? If the clients responds affirmatively to those questions, they are sent follow-up questions to assess the risk of the client relapsing and the care manager is alerted. The care manager can then call or visit the client.
There is also a panic option in the system which allows a client to notify their care manager if they are facing relapse or other health struggles or mental health issues. This option allows care managers to immediately intervene to provide counseling or other appropriate resources.
Of the 21 clients enrolled in the program as part of the study, about half of them reported no substance use after three months. Although researchers say it is hard to know how much of that success is attributed to the messaging service vs. the drug treatment program, Push said there were measureable benefits which indicate the program offers many benefits.
Push said the messaging program replaces 15 minutes of check-in time per client each week, which amounts to about 7.5 hours a week for each staff member who monitors about 30 clients. The extra time will allow each staff worker to see approximately 23 percent more clients each week.
Push said the response from clients participating in the program was very positive, with many of them noting it was reassuring to know that someone cares about them and that help is nearby if they need it.
PFH is working with Epharmix to expand the program to include messaging systems for clients dealing with depression and those who need assistance with medication tracking. Push said they are able to easier identify patients who need immediate intervention when considering self-harm or suicide, and can put the client in contact with their care manager immediately or a suicide prevention hotline. In the case of medication tracking, clients receive reminders telling them it is time to take their medication.