OMG, more than one lesson from this diabetes study. LOL!
A recent press release caught the eye of many online health care journalists, especially those interested in technology, and splashed broadly across the world wide web. The study was encouraging, and foretell of future trends in the use of everyday technology to help manage health and disease. But there was also an interesting unintentional lesson.
First the intended news. A researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital (NCH) conducted a pilot study of the use of personalized text messages to increase diabetes medication compliance among adolescences. This is a great topic for a number of reasons: Forgetting to take your daily diabetes meds is easy, but can lead to a crisis; 75 percent of teens have unlimited texting plans on their mobile phones, and the average teen thumb-taps out 50 texts a day; and mobile phone health reminders are a widely used mhealth application. Texting is clearly the current language of adolescents, so why not talk to them about health, health care, and specifically diabetes care in their language.
The NCH research found that personalized text messages sent to diabetic adolescents improved their medication adherence, and their blood glucose control. Based on these findings, a more rigorous test is planned. An iPhone app is also being developed to tap into the functionality of that device.
Now for the unintended lessons. Online write-ups mentioned the general findings covered in the press release, including that this was a small pilot study. But the vast majority didn't mention exactly how much of a pilot study it was. Only 3 patients were involved, followed over 3 months. Though the findings are being prepared for publication, they have not been submitted yet, nor have they been presented at a conference. This by no means denigrates the findings, the author plainly disclosed all of this to Justmeans when asked. And it makes sense to us a small proof-of-concept study before proceeding with a larger effort.
But once upon a time, a piece of health care or diabetes research that only involved 3 patients for 12 weeks, and that hadn't been published or presented would never have been covered so widely. Potentially there are a lot of downsides, most especially that so many outlets simply paraphrase press releases without asking obvious questions or doing some extra digging. But there's also some good news: Thanks to the internet , we are able to quickly and relatively easily spread our story far and wide. Not merely by creating our own blogs or web pages, but also by widely distributing press releases by email or Twitter, by publishing in open-access journals or rapid-response online letters that are searched by Google. All this is great news for entrepreneurs, small scale researchers and advocates with passion and a great cause or product to publicize. Even in the world of health care research that's dominated methodological giants, we can leverage new media to give wide airing to less weighty but promising concepts.