Be wary of studies that aim to determine the efficacy of "electronic messages" for chronic disease management if they were conducted four or five years ago. Four or five years may not seem like a long time for advances in chronic disease management but four years is an eon for electronic messaging.
A study conducted by physicians at Group Health Cooperative in Washington and Idaho tracked 2,924 diabetic adults who used electronic messaging systems to communicate with their physicians. The study took place from January 2004 to March 2005. The researchers concluded that there was a positive correlation between "e-messaging use" and positive patient outcomes. E-messaging use, however, led to a higher rate of outpatient visits.
Let's take a look of one form of "e-messaging" that's popular today: text messaging.
In 2004 just over 50 percent of the U.S. population had a cellphone and only about 35 percent of them ever sent a text messages. Over the course of that year users sent about 37 billion text messages, which is about 213 text messages sent per user -- for the entire year.
Clearly times have changed.
Last year U.S. cellphone users exchanged 1 trillion text messages, which works out to about 3,704 text messages each during 2008. That's about 10 texts per day.
Text messages, of course, are just one form of electronic messages, which could include instant messages, emails, voicemails, faxes, pages, social networking posts and so on. While the abstract published over at DiabetesCare does not specify which of these "e-messaging" tools were used by the diabetics tracked in the Group Health Cooperative study, it's fair to say the U.S. population's habitual use of each of them has changed since 2004.
While many medical studies probably should take years of investigation and research, those that are investigating the efficacy of using wireless or online messaging tools cannot afford to wait that long before publishing.
If they do, they'll only serve as a time capsule for some bygone era where terms like "e-messaging" were still en vogue and only 20 out of 100 people had ever sent a text message.