I first learned about Text4Baby.org at at Maternity Care Research Symposium in June. Researchers had come from all over the state to determine how they could use existing measures and tools to identify trends in pregnancy and birth outcomes, particularly in the Medi-Cal population. A struggle most of the researchers were having was identifying who was pregnant early-on in their pregnancies and how to provide prenatal care from the beginning of the pregnancy. One woman stood up during a Q&A session who works for Text4Baby, a joint project between the National Healthy Mothers. She commented on the need for providers to target their outreach efforts differently than the traditional posters and flyers approach, stating that a large percentage of under served, low-income populations have access to cell phones and social media, it is no longer a tool for the wealthy or well-off. Back in June this comment didn’t exactly surprise me, but it did, however, make me stop and think. When I think of $500 iPhones and the costly service packages that accompany them, I think, “No way those can be accessible by people who are struggling to pay rent.” But if you think about a basic phone, the ones most of us used 10 years ago with text messaging and the game Snake (still very entertaining), or the disposable cell phones you can buy at Walmart for $25, it makes sense. What an easy way to communicate to a large number of people if you are using something that they are using all the time anyway.
Text4Baby was created by Healthy Babies Coalition, Johnson & Johnson, and several other founding partners. The service provides free text message service that sends timely and informative text messages to subscribers throughout their pregnancies. Tips for prenatal care week by week, what to eat and not to eat, and advice for after the baby is born on setting sleeping patterns, breastfeeding, etc. A pregnant woman simply needs to text “BABY” to 511411 or “BEBE” if they would like their tips in Spanish. But Text4Baby, as well as the other tools we were presented this week also made me wonder, what other preventative services could be amplified through a text messaging campaign, and how do you make people aware that they are available. Someone struggling to lose weight may benefit from simple motivational message a few times a week, or someone trying to quit smoking could benefit from the same. But how does someone know they can text “BABY” to 511411 and access all this free information? And how do you prevent these campaigns from facing the same fate email did, with the amount of spam causing many people to pull away from any messaging all together?
I think the targeted campaigns work better than something that would be long lasting or indefinite. For example, Text4Baby is successful I think because pregnancy has a start date, an end date, and a very captive audience. Mothers want to do what’s best for their baby, especially at such a formative time. Providing a text messaging campaign however with just general wellness tips would get…well, boring or overused and people would zone out. But to target specific behaviors during a specific time frame, I think text messaging campaigns are an untapped wealth of public health knowledge, accessible by many for minimal cost.