SMS can be a great way to remind parents to get their children vaccinated, according to a new study. Dr. Melissa Stockwell, an assistant professor at Columbia University, used text messaging to remind minority, low-income families about flu vaccinations. Her results show that text messages can help keep families healthy.

According to an article at the Pediatric Supersite, a group of parents received weekly text messages that reminded them about the importance of vaccinations, and directed them to local clinics. Children of parents that got the texts were 7-9% more likely to receive the vital vaccinations than the control group. “Even that could make a real difference if used in a large population,” Dr. Stockwell said.

Traditional methods of outreach have had a lot lower impact. The study’s control group only received “an automated phone reminder and fliers posted in the community office.”  That’s just the kind of white noise that families are used to tuning out.

SMS’s restricted character count – 160 characters – can sometimes seem like an obstacle to communicating complex information. But we’ve found that restriction can be a blessing in disguise. It forces both marketers and medics to communicate their message in a bite-sized format. That’s about as much attention as people are willing to devote in their media-glutted lives. You may not get someone to read a flyer or an email, but they will give you ten seconds when they glance at their phones. That’s a foot in the door that can save lives.

We’ve written before about how SMS can help you stop smoking. We’ve also worked with the California Department of Public Health to create a state-wide database of flu vaccination clinics. During the H1N1 crisis, thousands of people texted in to find the closest vaccination near them.

Mobile messaging has already radically reinvented the way we communicate. We’re just beginning to see its potential in changing the way we live.