Could SMS solve the UK’s high blood pressure dilemma?

For a developed and established nation, the UK is all too familiar with health problems; it seems we don’t always take the time to look after ourselves properly. One of the biggest issues we face is high blood pressure – it’s something that affects more than a quarter of the population, and around five million of those people aren’t even aware.

It might not seem like a big deal, but high blood pressure can lead to some serious problems, including heart disease, strokes, kidney disease and vascular dementia.

So what if we said those figures could be drastically reduced with the help of SMS? It sounds crazy but that’s exactly what the latest report from researchers at Oxford University seems to prove.

The study was carried out in Cape Town, South Africa with help from the University of Cape Town academics. It involved 1,300 local adults with high blood pressure – some of whom were provided with text reminders of when to collect and take their medicines, while others received standard care.

Oxford’s Professor Andrew Farmer, who worked on the research project, said: “‘High blood pressure is a common condition that can be managed successfully with tablets. Yet, even in health systems where that medication is freely available, people can struggle to keep taking the tablets regularly.

“We knew that text messages had worked to support people with HIV/Aids to stick to their treatment and improve their health as a result. We wanted to see whether the messages could work for blood pressure treatment in a deprived community.”

There were three groups of participants in total, and all received written information about high blood pressure prevention. The first were sent weekly reminders via SMS, the second received the same messages but were also able to respond to cancel or rearrange clinic appointments. The third group were given standard care.

After one year, doctors found that blood pressures had fallen across all three groups, but those receiving regular reminders had seen the biggest improvements. Professor Farmer went on to explain that the reductions seen were on par with those expected from intensive one-to-one behavioural counselling, which is usually out of financial reach for residents of Cape Town’s more deprived neighbourhoods.

The issues identified in South Africa aren’t unique to the deprived communities of Cape Town. Brits too forget to take medicine, and as our infographic highlights, many also forget to show up for appointments. With the NHS already under such immense pressure, the introduction of SMS could make a massive difference.