Use of an android phone application for automated text messages in international settings: A case study in an HIV clinical trial in St. Petersburg, Russia

Clin Trials. 2018 Feb;15(1):36-43. doi: 10.1177/1740774517726067. Epub 2017 Aug 10.


Background/aims: Reproducible outcomes in clinical trials depend on adherence to study protocol. Short message service (also known as text message) reminders have been shown to improve clinical trial adherence in the United States and elsewhere. However, due to systematic differences in mobile data plans, languages, and technology, these systems are not easily translated to international settings.

Methods: To gauge technical capabilities for international projects, we developed SMSMessenger, an automated Android application that uses a US server to send medication reminders to participants in a clinical trial in St. Petersburg, Russia (Zinc for HIV disease among alcohol users-a randomized controlled trial in the Russia Alcohol Research Collaboration on HIV/AIDS cohort). The application is downloaded once onto an Android study phone. When it is time for the text message reminders to be sent, study personnel access the application on a local phone, which in turn accesses the existing clinical trial database hosted on a US web server. The application retrieves a list of participants with the following information: phone number, whether a message should be received at that time, and the appropriate text of the message. The application is capable of storing multiple outgoing messages. With a few clicks, text messages are sent to study participants who can reply directly to the message. Study staff can check the local phone for incoming messages. The SMSMessenger application uses an existing clinical trial database and is able to receive real-time updates. All communications between the application and server are encrypted, and phone numbers are stored in a secure database behind a firewall. No sensitive data are stored on the phone, as outgoing messages are sent through the application and not by messaging features on the phone itself. Messages are sent simultaneously to study participants, which reduces the burden on local study staff. Costs and setup are minimal. The only local requirements are an Android phone and data plan.

Conclusion: The SMSMessenger technology could be modified to be applied anywhere in the world, in any language, script, or alphabet, and for many different purposes. The novel application of this existing low-cost technology can improve the usefulness of text messaging in advancing the goals of international clinical trials.

Keywords: SMSMessenger; automated text messaging; international settings; medication reminders; mobile health intervention.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Cell Phone
  • Computer Security
  • Confidentiality
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Double-Blind Method
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Internationality*
  • Medication Adherence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Reminder Systems*
  • Research Design
  • Russia
  • Text Messaging*
  • United States
  • Zinc / administration & dosage


  • Zinc