Put to the text: addiction treatment sessions SMS study

29 Aug 2018
sms study addiction treatment
Put to the text: SMS reminders increase attendance rates

SMS reminders sent to patients booked in to addiction treatment sessions significantly increase attendance rates, University of Queensland research has found.

Dr Matthew Gullo, who led the team of researchers from UQ’s Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research and Princess Alexandra Hospital, said the study was the first to evaluate the effectiveness of SMS appointment reminders for alcohol addiction treatment sessions.

“There is good evidence for the effectiveness of SMS reminders in improving attendance to medical appointments, however there is limited evidence for addiction services,” Dr Gullo said.

“The key finding was that patients were more likely to engage with treatment services when they were reminded of appointments by SMS, compared to when no reminders were provided.

“We also investigated whether highly impulsive patients (a trait linked with addiction) benefited more from the reminders, as impulsivity is associated with poorer treatment engagement.

“The results showed that reminders were less effective for these patients, and not at all effective for the most impulsive patients.

“We found this surprising as we expected that impulsive patients would benefit more from reminders, because spontaneity and lack of planning are characteristic features of impulsivity.

“Other health studies suggest impulsive patients may respond better to SMS updates that contain motivational content, so this is an area for further research to improve addiction treatment.”

Attendance records were analysed from more than 1000 scheduled treatment sessions for 193 patients seeking treatment for alcohol dependence at the Princess Alexandra Hospital's Alcohol and Drug Assessment Unit.

After the introduction of SMS appointment reminders, six months of data was compared with the same six month period in the previous calendar year – before SMS reminders were implemented.

“We hope these results will demonstrate that, even in a complex area of healthcare like addiction treatment, simple initiatives can increase engagement with treatment,” Dr Gullo said.

In 2015–16 in Australia, 32 per cent of drug treatment episodes were primarily for alcohol, making it the most commonly treated drug in Australia.

“It is important ongoing research is conducted to prevent and treat alcohol use disorders as they can lead to many health and social problems such as cancer, liver disease, motor vehicle accidents and assault (including domestic violence),” Dr Gullo said.

The study was published in Addictive Behaviours.

Media: Dr Matthew Gullo, m.gullo@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3443 2537, Kirsten O’Leary, UQ Communications, k.oleary@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 7436, @UQhealth.

Study Author: Dr Matthew Gullo is the Acting Director of the UQ Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research. In addition to this role, he maintains clinical practice as a Visiting Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Princess Alexandra Hospital's Alcohol and Drug Assessment Unit. He is primarily interested in understanding how impulsivity conveys risk for addiction and substance misuse.