There are more than 46 million Americans living in poverty. For majority of them receiving adequate healthcare is something that they can only dream of. Low-income communities being underserved by the health care system is a huge issue that many medical professionals and community organizers try to overcome by understanding how to better serve these neighborhoods.
Researchers from the University of Michigan teamed up with Friends of Parkside (FOP) to address the issue using an often overlooked technology: texting. They used Parkside, a public housing complex on the eastside of Detroit that houses about 750 people, 90% of whom are black, as an example.
Nearly half of Parkside’s residents live below the poverty line. Many of the people who live there can’t afford proper health care, and community organizations are looking for effective ways to conduct surveys to find out how they can help.
“Even if people can’t afford to pay for their medication or buy things that we perceive as them needing, they will definitely pay for their cell phones and text messaging plans,” Tammy Chang, lead author of the study, said. “Why are we not using this resource? It’s a low-tech, basically ubiquitous technology that we can use to tap into their thoughts and opinions about issues going on in their community.”
Many saw the text surveys as an improvement over those on paper, because they were simple and could be answered “in their own language.”Published online in BioMed Central Public Health, the study involved 20 Parkside residents, all black and nearly all women, who were sent mail-in and text message-based surveys about health issues.
One of the questions asked whether they [survey participants] would stay at home or go to the emergency room in the event of a medical emergency like suddenly not being able to walk. Sadly, but not unsurprisingly, many participants responded that in most cases they would stay home and wait it out. Aspirin is often way cheaper than a hospital trip when you don’t have medical insurance.
According to the study, nearly all the participants reported having a positive reaction to SMS-based surveys. Many saw the text surveys as an improvement over those on paper, because they were simple and could be answered “in their own language.”
Text messaging, in this context, has a democratizing effect in more arenas than just language. For one thing, it’s extremely cheap for both surveyors and survey takers. The University of Michigan researchers estimate that it would cost just $50 for a community organization like FOP to launch a text message-based survey campaign. So yes, SMS’ outdated and inexpensive nature makes it a viable tool for improving access to care, especially for low-income communities.