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Texting your breast reconstruction patients after surgery may help improve postoperative outcomes including time to drain removal, a new study shows.

In the study of 102 women undergoing breast reconstruction after mastectomy for treatment or prevention of breast cancer, those women who communicated with their surgeon via text messaging for routine postoperative follow-up matters made significantly fewer clinic visits and phone calls than their counterparts who did not text their surgeon.

In the first 30 days, the average number of clinic visits was 2.82 in the text message group versus 3.65 in the usual care or no texting group, the study showed.

The findings appear in the July issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Text messaging also reduced the number of days the drain was needed. On average, the drain was removed nearly three days earlier in the text messaging group, and was more likely to be removed at the first clinic visit.

In the text messaging group, patients texted the amount of fluid output from a surgical drain each evening, starting on the day they left the hospital.

After receiving the patient’s message, the surgeon responded with instructions to continue with standard drain care, come to the clinic for drain removal or wound evaluation on the next working day.

Patients operated on by the other surgeon received a routine appointment to come to the clinic one week after leaving the hospital. Both groups had access to clinic phone numbers and an Internet patient care portal.

"Consistent with the benefits of text messaging (ease of use, speed, simplicity), patients’ adherence to medical advice (monitoring and recording…drain output) improved in this study," according to study authors who were led by Roshni Rao, MD, a plastic surgeon of University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

There are some barriers to widespread use of texting between doctors and patients. Obstacles include concerns about confidential patient information and the physicians’ privacy, the researchers point out. In the study, patients used text messaging to send only the requested information during specified hours, and messages only appeared on a password-protected cell phone.