Context: 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.
Evidence acquisition: 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.
Evidence synthesis: 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.
Conclusions: 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.