DOH approves grant for text msg

Health effort is spelled t-e-x-t
Whitney Young awarded $2.7M state grant for messaging project

By CATHLEEN F. CROWLEY, Staff writer
First published: Thursday, January 8, 2009

ALBANY – You can say a lot with the 160 letters allowed in a text message sent by cell phone. A text message can alert you about a low bank balance. You can set up a dinner date by text. So why not arrange a doctor’s appointment or receive your latest blood test results by text message?

The Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Services received a $2.7 million from the state Health Department to use text messaging to manage patients with diabetes.

“We are very excited,” said Whitney Young President James D. Sinkoff. “We think if we are successful, this will have much broader implications across the nation.”

The state dispersed $6 million in of grants across the state this month to launch pilot programs designed to improve care for chronically ill Medicaid patients. Medicaid is the state-subsidized health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

The Whitney Young project will last three years and target 275 diabetics. The health center is working with Cerner Corporation, of Kansas City, to create the technology behind the system.

Through text messages, Sinkoff said doctors will share the results of blood work and radiology and remind patients of appointments. Patients can send messages with their latest blood levels taken at home.

“It will reduce the need for having patients come back in,” Sinkoff said.

Many of the complications of diabetes can be avoided by controlling blood sugar levels, which patients can monitor themselves. Poor results on home blood tests will alert Whitney Young of pending problems.

“One of the goals is to intervene more quickly if there is an issue going on,” he said.

Health programs that use telephones have shown success.

A study published in the December issue of “Telemedicine and e-Health” found that 17,000 patients in the Veteran Administration’s “telehealth” program had fewer hospitalizations than veterans not in the program.

Among the low-income patients served by Whitney Young, telephones get disconnected and letters that look like bills are often thrown in the trash, Sinkoff said.

Whitney Young hopes text messages will break through those barriers.

Cathleen F. Crowley can be reached at 454-5348 or ccrowley@timesunion.com.

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