Treating Asthma With Text Messages And Autism With Social Media

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Pediatric asthma patients who received a daily text message asking about their symptoms or providing information about the ailment demonstrated improved pulmonary function and a better understanding of their condition within four months, say researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in a new study.

“It appears that text messages acted as an implicit reminder for patients to take their medicine and by the end of the study, the kids were more in tune with their illness,” study leader Rosa Arriaga, a senior research scientist at the Atlanta-based university´s School of Interactive Computing, explained in a statement.

She and colleague TJ Yun, a former Georgia Tech Ph. D. student, presented their findings at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and Special Interest Group on Computer—Human Interaction (SIGCHI) Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2013 in Paris on Tuesday.

According to the university, their work “won a best paper award in the Replichi category, which highlights best practices in study methodology,” and was also “a replication study of an SMS health intervention for pediatric asthma patients originally published in early 2012 in the Proceedings of the 2nd ACM SIGHIT International Health Informatics Symposium.

“Asthma is the most prevalent chronic respiratory disorder in the U.S., affecting about 17.3 million individuals, including more than 5 million children. Medication is the main way patients manage symptoms, but research shows less than 30 percent of teens use their inhalers regularly,” they added. “Texting, on the other hand, is something teens do regularly and enjoy. Nearly 75 percent of American teens have mobile devices.”

In order to determine whether or not this technology could be used to help asthmatic youngsters better manage their condition, Arriaga and Yun recruited 30 asthmatic children between the ages of 10 and 17 years of age from a private Atlanta-based pediatric pulmonology clinic.

They each owned a mobile phone and could read at a minimum fifth-grade level. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three groups: one that did not receive any text messages, one that received an SMS message every other day, and one that received an SMS message daily.

Over a four-month period, the intervention groups received and responded to text messages 87 percent of the time, with an average response time of 22 minutes. Following the conclusion of the study, the Georgia Tech researchers analyzed those patients who had follow-up visits with their doctors.

They found that sending at least one SMS message per day that contained a question about asthma or specific symptoms improved the patients´ overall health. According to Arriaga, the study findings “indicate that both awareness and knowledge are crucial to individuals engaging in proactive behavior to improve their condition.”

In a separate but related study, Arriaga, Georgia Tech Regents Professor of Interactive Computing Gregory Abowd, and graduate student Hwajung Hong looked into whether or not social media could help individuals with autism improve their connectedness and expand the network of people from whom they can obtain advice.

“The study involved three individuals with Asperger´s Syndrome, a diagnosis that reflects average or above average language skills, but impaired social skills and patterns of behaviors and interests,” the university said. “Individuals with Asperger´s Syndrome can have difficulty using traditional social networking sites such as Facebook because it requires a degree of social nuance. They also may be vulnerable to users trying to take advantage of them.”

In order to overcome those concerns, the researchers established a special social network for individuals using GroupMe, a mobile group messaging app. Each individual was linked with a small, pre-determined number of friends or family members that he or she could contact to discuss day-to-day issues or ask questions. Over four weeks, each subject communicated with their controlled clique, reducing his or her dependence on a primary caregiver.

“The circle actively engaged and shared the responsibility for responding to the participant´s queries,” said the researchers, who also reported their findings at the SIGCHI Conference. “Primary caregivers gave positive reviews of the specialized social network, saying that they were happy with the diversity of feedback that the system provided and that the load felt lighter thanks to the help of the circle members. Results indicate that positive online interactions lead to real-life interactions between the individuals and their circle members.”