Texting to help manage heart disease

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A new programme that uses text messages to help people manage their heart disease is being trialled in Auckland.

University of Auckland Associate Professor Ralph Maddison has received a $105,116 project grant from the Heart Foundation to test the effectiveness of the Text4Heart programme.

Text4Heart participants receive 5-6 text messages each week, focused on helping them make lifestyle changes. Large numbers of people with heart disease don’t participate in important cardiac rehabilitation, due to a number of reasons including difficulty getting to and from venues, time off work, etc., so they miss out on valuable education and support to help them recover after a heart event. Text4Heart was developed to provide support for people recovering from a heart event.

“We have been working on Text4Heart for six years. Text messaging has been successfully used to help people stop smoking, but we wanted to support people to make multiple changes in their behaviour. Our aim was to offer people support to recover from a heart event using technology that is able to reach as many people as possible.

“Text4Heart focuses on providing support to help people better manage their disease across a range of behaviours. Previous evaluation of text messaging in people with heart disease showed that not only was it well accepted, it also increased physical activity and was likely cost-effective. This encouraged us to develop Text4Heart,” explains Associate Professor Maddison. 

Pilot Study

A pilot of Text4Heart at Auckland and North Shore Hospitals in 2014-2015 that involved 123 people, showed that twice as many people on the pilot programme stuck with lifestyle changes than those who received usual cardiac support alone.

“People were also more likely to report that they were taking their medications if they were receiving Text4Heart messages. This encouraged us to conduct the larger study with 330 people,” explained Associate Professor Maddison.

Text4Heart has been developed with input from people with heart disease, cardiologists, cardiac rehabilitation specialists, exercise science professionals, dieticians, and health psychologists.

2016 Study

The trial kicked off in June 2016 and is expected to be completed by late 2018. Associate Professor Maddison and his team aim to recruit 330 people with heart disease from Auckland and North Shore Hospitals. Those in the control group (allocated randomly) will receive usual cardiac support alone, while those in the test group will receive the usual cardiac support and Text4Heart with assessment at 6 and 12 months.

“Participants will receive core messages about heart health for the duration of the study. They will also be able to choose to receive additional information to help support them to make changes to their behaviour in key areas including diet and physical activity. We can tailor the delivery of messages to support personal preferences, including selecting the time of the day that is best for them to receive the message.”

Associate Professor Maddison says he is grateful to the Heart Foundation for providing the funding, which he believes will have a major impact on the trial.

“The Heart Foundation funding will allow us to collect follow-up data at one year which will be a first for this type of programme. We will also be able to access routinely collected data on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, hospitalisations, etc., of the participants. This means we can assess the sustained effect of this programme on people living with heart disease. If it is effective, it would be relatively easy with the appropriate funding, to implement this programme throughout New Zealand.”