David Cheskin—PA Wire/AP
December 29, 2014 11:12 AM EST

Text messages may be a simple way doctor’s offices can ensure their young patients are adequately protected against the flu.

In a new study from Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center, researchers looked at 660 children between 6 months through 8 years old. Kids in that age range require two doses of the influenza vaccine. The first dose primes the immune system, and the second dose offers immune protection. Kids who do not get both doses, which are given at least 28 days apart, are not fully protected. However, it can be hard for families to bring in their children twice for vaccination.

The researchers developed a new strategy of sending educational text message reminders for the second dose. They split the participants into three groups. One group received an educational text message (the text included info on why the second dose is important), one group received a conventional reminder text message and the last group received a written reminder only.

The results, published in the journal Pediatrics, show that the kids whose families received the educational text message were much more likely to get their second dose at 72.7%. In comparison, 66.7% of kids in the conventional text group got their second flu shot, and 57.1% of kids in the written reminder group got theirs.

Families viewed the text messages as helpful, and a sign that someone cared. Nearly 61% of parents said the texts were either the primary reason or part of the reason they brought their children in for the second dose, and slightly over 70% said it was one of the reasons they brought their kids in sooner.

If text messages really are more successful than more traditional medical reminders, it might be time for wider adoption.

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