Mobile Communication Tools for Health


More people access the Internet today using a smart phone than a desktop computer and access to the Internet has penetrated further than ever. This change is important for public health practitioners who want to use these tools effectively.


  1. Mobile websites

So first, we’re going to party like its 1999!


Hold up, wait a minute. Wasn’t that 16 years ago?!

Yes, it was, but when it comes to the basics of designing a mobile website we need to go back in time. Websites back in the day were simple and had few bells and whistles….and this was considered a good thing!!


Amazon back in the day

Amazon back in the day


With the molasses-like speeds of dial-up, you wanted your website to load quickly, so it needed to be fairly simple. It’s the same idea with cell-phones (although 4G coverage is becoming more common)- the slow data connections necessitate simple designs for your mobile site.

For your mobile website, forgo the animations, videos, and image-overload. These things take time to load on a mobile device and someone who is accessing your site on the go does not have any time to waste.

Content: your mobile site should have information that people on the go would want. For the mobile site, they have appointment times and the pharmacy center so you can refill your prescription on the go. It also lists near-by facilities. The mobile site’s first prominent display is, “Is my test, item, or service covered?” The point is people accessing the mobile site don’t need to know about the founding of the organization or old news.


  1. SMS campaigns


Short message service (SMS), or text campaigns, can send out messages to subscribers to let them know about breaking news or events, reminders for vaccines or appointments, or calls for action. These have been used with success in developing countries, but also here in the United States.


text4baby is great example of a good SMS campaign here in the US. Subscribers can set up appointment reminders, but they also get messages relevant to the development stage of the developing baby. These messages may contain health tips or just general facts about the stage of development. They even include messages related to family violence, safety, and mental health. It deals with a lot of aspects of pregnancy that many people might not think about and helps connect expectant mothers.

If you do engage in an SMS campaign, make sure that the content of the texts are important. Since it is so easy to stop receiving the alerts, you don’t want to give people any reason to leave. Only send out texts 2-3x/month with the occasional breaking alert for special occasions (an epidemic, a natural disaster, big press release). You can even use text donations to raise funds, although that has not been very effective in the past for smaller organizations.


  1. QR codes


So, Mansfield talked a bit about QR codes in her book, Social Media for Social Good, and how they would be all the rage & pre-installed on today’s smart phones. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the hype about these was a bit over-blown. I live in the Bay Area and while I do see a few of the QR codes on an ad here and there, there certainly are not ubiquitous and my more recent model iPhone didn’t have a QR app upon purchase. However, something that I’ve learned these past few weeks is that adoption of tech is regional and some areas may have embraced this function. If it’s common in your area, don’t forget to use include a QR code to make it easy for your mobile users to connect with your organization/mission.

These mobile tools can help PH practitioners connect with the public in ways never possible before and with people who would have been almost impossible to reach previously. Go out there and get mobile!


2 thoughts on “Mobile Communication Tools for Health

  1. Great job! Your post is straight forward and to the point, providing excellent information for anyone using mobile communications. You also always use great examples that show your readers exactly what you mean. I appreciated you using the hyperlinks that further connects your readers to additional resources. It was also great that you added information about yourself and your own experiences with mobile communications. To strengthen your post even more I would expand on your last paragraph providing a little bit more insight for the public health practitioner. Other than that I have enjoyed reading all your posts over the last six weeks.

  2. Congratulations on another solid post, Jersey. I liked your survey of different mobile health media, in terms of adapting them to a public health audience. (I have to say that your observation about 1999 being 16 years ago made me a bit sad, because to me, the 1990s were always “the last decade,’ as though I lost the 2000s somehow!) I liked how you brought plenty of personal experience into your post, and your observations about what seemed to work and what did not were helpful. You also brought in enough specific examples of mobile health media that it was clear to understand your points. Nice work over the past few weeks. It’s been fun to watch how your blog posts have improved with practice over time.

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