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Open Access Short Report

Text messaging: an innovative method of data collection in medical research

ST Kew

Author Affiliations

Department of Internal Medicine, International Medical University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

BMC Research Notes 2010, 3:342  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-3-342

Published: 20 December 2010

Abstract

Background

The ubiquitous use of mobile phones in sending and receiving text messages has become a norm for young people. Undeniably, text messaging has become a new and important communication medium not only in the social realm but in education as well. The aim of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of using text messaging as a means to collect data for a medical research project.

A cross sectional study was carried out during a double blind, randomized controlled trial to assess the efficacy and safety of a probiotic in the management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). The study aim was to assess the response rate of weekly symptom reports via Short Message Service (SMS). The subjects were undergraduates in a private medical university in Malaysia. They were identified through a previous university wide study as suffering from IBS based on Rome III criteria. The subjects were randomly assigned to either the treatment arm receiving a daily probiotic, or the placebo arm. They were required to score their symptoms using eight-item-questionnaires at baseline, and thereafter weekly, for a total of 8 weeks. All subjects were given the choice to communicate their symptom scores by text messaging via mobile phones or by email. SMS text messages were sent to remind trial subjects to attend face-to-face visits and to complete a paper based 34-item-questionnaires on IBS quality of life assessment at baseline and at end of 8 weeks.

Findings

The response rate of weekly symptom scores via Short Message Service (SMS) from a total of 38 subjects was 100%. Through the study, 342 reports were submitted: 33.3% of these were received on the due date without reminder, 60.0% one day after the deadline, after a single reminder, 6.1% 2-3 days after the deadline, after 2-3 reminders and 0.6% 5 days after the deadline, after SMS, phone reminder and face-to-face encounter. All SMS symptom reports, whether on time or late, were complete. With the help of SMS reminder, all trial subjects completed the paper based IBS quality of life assessment at baseline and at end of study.

Conclusions

This study found using text messaging via mobile phone an excellent instrument for collecting weekly symptom reports in response to trial medication, reminding trial subjects to attend face to face visits and completing more complex paper based evaluation. The 100% response rate of weekly symptom reports was facilitated by using simple number codes for SMS submission.

Trial Registration

Not appropriate.