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Crafting Appealing Text Messages to Encourage Colorectal Cancer Screening Test Completion: A Qualitative Study

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      BackgroundmHealth interventions that incorporate text messages have great potential to increase receipt of preventive health services such as colorectal cancer screening. However, little is known about older adult perspectives regarding the receipt of text messages from their health care providers.ObjectiveTo assess whether older adults would value and access text messages from their physician’s practice regarding colorectal cancer screening.MethodsWe conducted four focus groups with 26 adults, aged 50 to 75 years, who had either recently completed or were overdue for colorectal cancer screening. A trained moderator followed a semistructured interview guide covering participant knowledge and attitudes regarding colorectal cancer screening, potential barriers to colorectal cancer screening, attitudes about receiving electronic communications from a doctor’s office, and reactions to sample text messages.ResultsParticipant responses to three primary research questions were examined: (1) facilitators and barriers to colorectal cancer screening, (2) attitudes toward receiving text messages from providers, and (3) characteristics of appealing text messages. Two themes related to facilitators of colorectal cancer screening were perceived benefits/need and family experiences and encouragement. Themes related to barriers included unpleasantness, discomfort, knowledge gaps, fear of complications, and system factors. Four themes emerged regarding receipt of text messages from health care providers: (1) comfort and familiarity with technology, (2) privacy concerns/potential for errors, (3) impact on patient-provider relationship, and (4) perceived helpfulness. Many participants expressed initial reluctance to receiving text messages but responded favorably when shown sample messages. Participants preferred messages that contained content that was important to them and were positive and reassuring, personalized, and friendly to novice texters (eg, avoided the use of texting shorthand phrases and complicated replies); they did not want messages that contain bad news or test results. They wanted the ability to choose alternative options such as email or phone calls.ConclusionsOlder adults are receptive to receiving cancer screening text messages from health care providers. Sharing sample messages with patients may increase acceptance of this tool in the clinic setting. Supportive tailored text messaging reminders could enhance uptake of colorectal cancer screening by enhancing patient self-efficacy and providing cues to action to complete colonoscopy or fecal occult blood testing.

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      Most cited references 48

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      Qualitative research in health care. Analysing qualitative data.

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        Behavior change interventions delivered by mobile telephone short-message service.

        The expansion and adoption of new methods of communication provide new opportunities for delivering health behavior change interventions. This paper reviews the current research examining mobile telephone short-message service (SMS) for delivering health behavior change interventions via text messages. This service has wide population reach, can be individually tailored, and allows instant delivery with asynchronous receipt, suggesting potential as a delivery channel for health behavior interventions. An electronic database search was conducted for studies published between January 1990 and March 2008. Studies were included in the review if they (1) evaluated an intervention delivered primarily via SMS, (2) assessed change in health behavior using pre-post assessment, and (3) were published in English in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Of 33 studies identified, 14 met the inclusion criteria. Four of the 14 studies reviewed targeted preventive health behaviors (e.g., smoking cessation), and ten focused on clinical care (e.g., diabetes self-management). Positive behavior change outcomes were observed in 13 of the 14 reviewed studies. Intervention initiation (researcher or participant), SMS dialogue initiation, tailoring of SMS content, and interactivity were found to be important features of SMS-delivered interventions. Methodologic issues with current SMS research were also identified. This review suggests that SMS-delivered interventions have positive short-term behavioral outcomes. Further research is required to evaluate interventions for preventive health behaviors that incorporate features found to affect behavioral outcomes and participant acceptance. The quality of studies in this emerging field of research needs to improve to allow the full potential of this medium to be explored.
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          Text messaging as a tool for behavior change in disease prevention and management.

          Mobile phone text messaging is a potentially powerful tool for behavior change because it is widely available, inexpensive, and instant. This systematic review provides an overview of behavior change interventions for disease management and prevention delivered through text messaging. Evidence on behavior change and clinical outcomes was compiled from randomized or quasi-experimental controlled trials of text message interventions published in peer-reviewed journals by June 2009. Only those interventions using text message as the primary mode of communication were included. Study quality was assessed by using a standardized measure. Seventeen articles representing 12 studies (5 disease prevention and 7 disease management) were included. Intervention length ranged from 3 months to 12 months, none had long-term follow-up, and message frequency varied. Of 9 sufficiently powered studies, 8 found evidence to support text messaging as a tool for behavior change. Effects exist across age, minority status, and nationality. Nine countries are represented in this review, but it is problematic that only one is a developing country, given potential benefits of such a widely accessible, relatively inexpensive tool for health behavior change. Methodological issues and gaps in the literature are highlighted, and recommendations for future studies are provided.

            Author and article information

            1Wake Forest School of Medicine Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy Winston-Salem, NCUnited States
            2University of Kansas School of Medicine Department of Health Policy and Management Kansas City, MOUnited States
            3Wake Forest School of Medicine Department of Internal Medicine Winston-Salem, NCUnited States
            Author notes
            Corresponding Author: Kathryn E Weaver keweaver@
            , ORCID:
            JMIR Mhealth Uhealth
            JMIR Mhealth Uhealth
            JMIR mHealth and uHealth
            JMIR Publications Inc. (Toronto, Canada )
            Oct-Dec 2015
            04 November 2015
            : 3
            : 4
            (Editor), (Reviewer), (Reviewer),
            ©Kathryn E Weaver, Shellie D Ellis, Nancy Denizard-Thompson, Donna Kronner, David P Miller. Originally published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth (, 04.11.2015.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR mhealth and uhealth, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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