Would you SMS for surveillance?


Could SMS (or text messaging) be used effectively to collect data for injury surveillance purposes?

This is a question asked by Moller and colleagues in a paper in the June 2012, Volume 46 (7) issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine. These authors wanted to monitor injuries sustained by handball players in Denmark and developed a system whereby the youth and senior elite athletes could directly report their injuries via SMS. The system involved sending all athletes a weekly SMS asking them if they had sustained any injury or illness that restricted their participation in handball. Two similar SMS messages were also sent to ask the athletes asking them to provide their exposure to injury risk, through time spent in matches and time spent training.  For each SMS, a direct response was required from the athlete and if they did not respond SMS reminders were sent two and four days later. The SMS surveillance was very successful with an over 85% response rate during the 31 week study period.

The Danish study also followed up all injured athletes with a short phone call to collect further injury details and, for those who reported medically treated injuries, the club physiotherapist was also contacted to verify the  injury diagnosis.  Unfortunately, only 70% of the injuries were able to be confirmed through these follow-up methods.

In this study, at least, use of SMS can lead to a high rate of initial injury reporting.  The fact that there was a lower rate of response to follow-up telephone calls suggests that perhaps this “non direct contact” form of communication is preferred by some people.  If injury and exposure details cannot be confirmed, however, there will be some doubts as to the accuracy of the reported information, but at least the time dimension impact of recall bias should be kept to a minimum.

This is just one novel study, in one particular context for injury.  Could this method be used for other injury settings?

I’d be keen to hear the experiences from anyone else who has used SMS or other forms of text messaging for injury surveillance.

Caroline Finch is an injury prevention researcher from the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP) within the Monash Injury Research Centre, Monash University, Australia.  She specializes in both injury surveillance and implementation and dissemination science applications for sports injury prevention.  She is the Senior Associate Editor for Implementation & Dissemination for the British Journal of Sports Medicine and a member of the Editorial Board of Injury Prevention; both journals are published by the BMJ Group.  Caroline can be followed on Twitter @CarolineFinch

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