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Can Texting Lead To Better Concussion Treatments?

Text messaging can serve a variety of purposes, from casually chatting with friends to ordering a pizza, but what about monitoring concussion symptoms?

Some, like researcher Stephanie Huang think it could be a tool for providing more personalized health care.

Thanks to a grant from the Pittsburgh Emergency Medicine Foundation, the first-year student from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is coming to Pittsburgh to see if texting is a more effective way of getting patients to monitor their own concussion treatments.

“For how often concussions happen, we really don’t understand them as well as we should,” Huang said. “Hopefully, with this research we can get a better grasp on how to treat them and really prevent these symptoms that are effecting many of these patients.”

In May, Huang, along with Dr. Brian Suffoletto from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will begin a six-month study looking at the effects of cognitive and physical activity on concussion recovery and how patients could record and report that information via text.

Concussion patients enrolled in the study will receive the same text messages for 14 days: How many minutes of cognitive activity have you engaged in today and how many minutes of physical activity have you completed today?

If patients respond positively to either of those questions, they will be sent a second series of messages asking if those activities caused nausea or a worsening of concussion symptoms.

If successful, Huang said texting could lead to better, more personalized concussion treatments.

“This is a really new way to link patients with providers and researchers,” she said. “So, instead of having to have patients come in to follow up with them and figure out what they’re symptoms are or to call them, we can actually just send a text message and get an instant response.”

But Huang admits the study could be flawed.

“There are some concerns with whether there will be less response if it’s through text messaging because some people don’t answer their phones,” she said. “I think it’ll be similar to what’s already been done, but just more efficient and more convenient.”

While most patients can expect a full recovery, 25 to 35 percent of patients with concussions in the United States report feeling symptoms three to six months after the initial injury. Between 5 and 15 percent have persistent disability and dysfunction, according to the Brain Injury Journal.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."