Text message reminders to improve immunization appointment attendance in Alberta, Canada: The Childhood Immunization Reminder Project pilot study

Vaccine coverage for 18-month-old children in Canada is often below the recommended level, which may be partially because of parental forgetfulness. SMS text message reminders have been shown to potentially improve childhood immunization uptake but have not been widely used in Alberta, Canada. In addition, it has been noted that language barriers may impede immunization service delivery but continue to remain unaddressed in many existing reminder and recall systems.

This study aimed to assess the effectiveness and acceptability of using SMS text messages containing a link to web-based immunization information in different languages to remind parents of their child’s 18-month immunization appointment.

The Childhood Immunization Reminder Project was a pilot intervention at 2 public health centers, one each in Lethbridge and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Two SMS text message reminders were sent to parents: a booking reminder 3 months before their child turned 18 months old and an appointment reminder 3 days before their scheduled appointment. Booking reminders included a link to the study website hosting immunization information in 9 languages. To evaluate intervention effectiveness, we compared the absolute attendance no-show rates before the intervention and after the intervention. The acceptability of the intervention was evaluated through web-based surveys completed by parents and public health center staff. Google Analytics was used to determine how often web-based immunization information was accessed, from where, and in which languages.

Following the intervention, the health center in Edmonton had a reduction of 6.4% (95% CI 3%-9.8%) in appointment no-shows, with no change at the Lethbridge Health Center (0.8%, 95% CI -1.4% to 3%). The acceptability surveys were completed by 222 parents (response rate: 23.9%) and 22 staff members. Almost all (>95%) respondents indicated that the reminders were helpful and provided useful suggestions for improvement. All surveyed parents (222/222, 100%) found it helpful to read web-based immunization information in their language of choice. Google Analytics data showed that immunization information was most often read in English (118/207, 57%), Punjabi (52/207, 25.1%), Arabic (13/207, 6.3%), Spanish (12/207, 5.8%), Italian (4/207, 1.9%), Chinese (4/207, 1.9%), French (2/207, 0.9%), Tagalog (1/207, 0.5%), and Vietnamese (1/207, 0.5%).

The study’s findings support the use of SMS text message reminders as a convenient and acceptable method to minimize parental forgetfulness and potentially reduce appointment no-shows. The diverse languages accessed in web-based immunization information suggest the need to provide appropriate translated immunization information. Further research is needed to evaluate the impact of SMS text message reminders on childhood immunization coverage in different settings.

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MacDonald SE, Marfo E, Sell H, Assi A, Frank-Wilson A, Atkinson K, Kellner JD, McNeil D, Klein K, Svenson LW

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