Study: Text-messaging program helps keep girls safe

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine attending physician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, recently led a study that found a text-message program may be an effective violence prevention tool for at-risk teen girls. More

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Study: Text-messaging program helps keep girls safe

Posted 3/17/14

PROVIDENCE – Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency medicine attending physician at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, recently led a study that found a text-message program may be an effective violence prevention tool for at-risk teen girls. The study has been published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Mobile health, or ‘mHealth,’ is increasingly being used as a way to improve people’s health, via text-messaging or phone-based applications,” said Ranney. “However, few people have studied whether teens are interested in mHealth, especially for prevention-type messages, even though the vast majority of teens who come to the emergency department use mobile phones, and more than 95 percent of those patients report that they use text messaging.”

Ranney’s team interviewed girls between the ages of 13 and 17 who reported past-year peer violence and depressive symptoms during emergency department visits for any medical issue. Overwhelmingly, the interviews showed that at-risk teen girls coming to the emergency department for care are strongly interested in receiving a text-message violence prevention intervention. The teens felt that a text-message program would enhance their existing coping strategies, and that they would not only use it themselves, but also refer their friends to it.

“The ED is the primary source of care for many teens with high-risk behaviors, such as peer violence, and it provides an important opportunity to initiate preventive interventions,” Ranney said. “However, there can be many limitations to providing such interventions in real time, including lack of time and resources on the part of ED staff, poor accessibility and availability of community resources, and low rates of follow-through with treatment referrals, leaving this group of teens largely under-served.”

The research team also discovered some important guidelines about how a text-message preventive intervention should be structured. The intervention should be personalized, positively worded and conversational, but also it should be clear that the messages are coming from an expert. The teens also expressed a need for the ability to request additional text messages as needed, in addition to receiving pre-scheduled text content.

The study, titled “Acceptability, language, and structure of text-message-based behavioral interventions for high-risk adolescent females,” was funded by a grant from the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, as well as the National Institutes of Health.

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