Risk factors

Google backs Australian SMS heart project

An SMS-based messaging service that delivers personalised medication and lifestyle advice to patients with cardiovascular disease has just received backing by the tech giant Google to help scale up the project and roll it out nationally.

The team from the George Institute’s cardiovascular division has just been awarded $750k in this year’s Google Impact Challenge by a panel of judges including Lucy Turnbull, CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall, David Gonski and the worldwide head of Google.org, Jacquelline Fuller.

TEXTCARE uses algorithms to send personalised texts four times a week to help patients change their lifestyles and take their treatments.

Five years in the making the program has already been shown to improve patient’s blood pressure with an effect similar to medications.

It has also helped people diagnosed with CVD lose weight, be more active and stop smoking – dramatically reducing their risk of heart attack and death.

Studies led by The George Institute showed people receiving the texts were nearly 1.4 times as likely to exercise, 44 per cent more likely to control their blood pressure and 33% more likely to quit smoking.

The texts also doubled the odds of people taking their medications correctly, placing them at a much lower risk of having another heart attack or stroke.

Deputy director of the George Institute for Global Health’s cardiovascular division associate professor Julie Redfern led the project with cardiologist Dr Clara Chow.

Professor Redfern, who has a background in physiotherapy, said she was looking for something simple and deliverable to help bridge the gap in care that people who have had a heart attack experience once they are discharged from hospital.

She says the program uses complex psychology and behaviour change strategies to help support patients placed back in the community after having a cardiovascular event make positive lifestyle changes.

“At the very beginning I was sceptical about whether this was going to be enough to work in these patients because it seems too simple but over the last five years I’ve completely changed my tune and come to the realisation that its very simplicity is really the key driver of its success,” she said in an interview with the limbic.

Text message systems are a practical, inexpensive tool for reaching patients and sharing potentially lifesaving reminders and information, Professor Redfern added.

The methods for delivering the texts were wide ranging. In one study, patients were sent a text when they failed to open a medication dispenser.

In another, personalised text messages were sent at predetermined frequencies with information about specific medicines and dosages. Others included medical education or general, nonmedical information such as humour.

“We need to be supportive, too often clinicians think they need to tell patients what they need to do but it’s not so much like that – this is just giving people ideas so people can pick and choose and feel empowered to take direction that suits them but it’s also important to make people feel good about themselves too,” she noted.

The plan now is to expand the program into other disease groups and to reach a greater number of patients.

The Google Impact Challenge held in Sydney last week, awarded over $5 million to 10 Australian non-profits.

With the funding grant and support from a tech leader like Google, Professor Redfern said she is confident her team will be able to really commercialise and scale TEXTCARE within the next 12 months so it gets into the hands of those who need it.

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