Texting 4 Health – mHealth Grows up

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Mhealth is commonly considered the use of mobile and wireless technology applied to achieving health objectives. This new, and potentially powerful use of technology is definitely still in its infancy as the  WHO recent report found that globally two-thirds of health programs were in the pilot or informal stage.

The majority of health use has been in areas such as health call centers or help lines (59%) but there are many more applications such as awareness raising and surveillance which have not yet been explored to the same extent.  SMS campaigns are low-cost and offer the opportunity for broad reach.

An example of one successful use ‘ awareness raising’ campaign is the YTHInfo

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YTHInfo is a youth focused text messaging service, raising awareness around various issues of sexual health. Application of mhealth approaches to stigmatized health topics can be particularly useful.

Across the board there is a recognized need for more structured and rigorous program evaluations for health programs and whole new area of research have arisen on the subject of mobile tech for health for example  Stanford’s Persuasive Tech Lab which studies how technology, including mobile phones can change people’s beliefs and behaviors – Captology.

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If you organization is considering embarking on a mhealth project, begin by taking some time to select your group text messaging vendor.  There are many to choose from, such as Ez texting, the open-sourced and scalable options offered by Rapid SMS  or Mobile commons, a healthcare focused platform.

Again, leverage the full power of social media activity to support your campaign by adding “Subscribe to Receive Text Alerts!” to your other social media outlets, such as your blog, e-newsletter, website or even your Facebook and Twitter activity. Also make consider to linking to your mobile website in your text messages to increase your impact.

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As part of the planning for your text message program try to ensure your messages are timely and relevant to current events as suggested in the book Social Media for Good by Heather Mansfield.

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Despite this, your should keep your rate of text messaging to a reasonable pace of two or three messages per month.  Subscribers pay more attention when they are not inundated by your messages.

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Track your click-through rates to gauge the success of your campaign’s outreach.  Some of the more expensive group text messaging vendors will include this in their prices but those operating on a tighter budget can analyze data using the free tool Bit.ly

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3 thoughts on “Texting 4 Health – mHealth Grows up

  1. Hi Ruth,

    Thanks for the informative post on text messaging.

    Very good use of specific examples to enrich your post (e.g., Mhealth, YTHInfo). I especially like the term “captology,” expanding the capacity of text messaging and impacting the future of public health campaigns using this tool.

  2. Hi Ruth,
    Your post is very informative and introduced me to the concept of captology. As a health educator I have been promoting the use of health apps to influence behavior change in those that need to change their unhealthy lifestyles to improve their cholesterol, blood sugar and/or blood pressure levels. Some of my members that used the health app MyFitness Pal indicate this has been helpful as the app sends them text message reminders to track their meals around breakfast, lunch and dinner times. I think the reminders are automated to be sent around the same time the user last logged their meals. The other tip you presented on keeping text messages to a reasonable pace is perfect because there are some companies that as soon as you provide your phone number inundate you with texts about promotions/offers.

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