Here is a statistic every health care communicator should know: 99 percent of text messages are read.
Translation: If you don’t have a mobile strategy for 2014, you’re missing out. A text message won’t get lost in the sea of posts, tweets, or emails you send to patients.
“Every phone has SMS on it,” says Sam McKelvie, Head of Mobile Strategy at Mobile Commons. “Texting goes across all demographics, age, race, and socio-economic statuses.”
A mobile strategy can help you gather more data about your patients.
“As a health care communicator, you can get so much data from the people participating in mobile campaigns,” McKelvie says. “Gone are the days of long-term follow-up interviews and phone surveys. People are willing to respond back and forth by text.”
Mobile Commons shares five examples of how mobile is changing health care:
Helping smokers quit
Mobile Commons teamed up with The National Cancer Institute to help teens stop smoking. So far, with SmokefreeTXT, the quitting rate averages around 6 percent for teens who opted-in to receive text message support—double the quit rate of teens that do not receive text message reminders.
SmokeFree TXT, under the umbrella of SmokeFree.gov, is available for both English and Spanish speakers.
“The overall goal of SmokeFree.gov is to make smoking cessation readily available to people no matter where they are in the mobile health space,” says Erik Auguston of The National Cancer Institute. “SmokeFree TXT allows us to deliver behavioral intervention and treatment to users.”
With a texting campaign, it’s easier to gather data and measure its effectiveness.
“When a person opts in, we ask them their gender, age, and how many cigarettes they smoke each day,” McKelvie explains. “We ask people about once a week, ‘Are you still smoke-free?’ This has helped us see if the campaign is more effective for teens or adults.”
SmokeFree.gov will create similar smoking cessation texting programs for the Veteran’s Administration and The Department of Defense.
“The backend technology and platform is very sophisticated and it allows us to think about these texts like conversations,” Auguston says. “Plus, I have found the Mobile Commons team to be responsive and great to work with.”
To opt-in to SmokeFreeTXT, a person can text QUIT to IQUIT (47848). They can also sign up online at SmokeFree.gov.
Chatting with a counselor
Remember what it felt like being a teenager and having a lot of questions about sex—and not knowing whom to ask?
Mobile Commons works with Planned Parenthood to help get these questions answered. Over the past three years, more than 250,000 teens have opted into this service.
A new study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research shows that the program has helped relieve teenage anxiety and confusion about sex. The program allows a live health educator to respond to a teenager’s questions by SMS or online chat, quickly and privately.
By using their mobile phone, teens don’t have to worry about using a public or family computer to talk about personal issues or health problems. Questions are answered through the integration tool, Live Person, making it easy for users to have a one-on-one conversation with an expert.
The campaign has been promoted at Planned Parenthood offices, on the Planned Parenthood website and on TV shows such as Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant.
Directing people to the right information
If you’re in New York City, you’ll see ads all over buses, encouraging people to get flu shots. The calls-to-action on the ads tell people to text “FLU” to 877877.
When people text in, they are prompted to enter their address. In return, they will receive a message with the location of the nearest flu shot center.
Related: Download 5 Ways Mobile is Improving Healthcare Outcomes.
Mobile Commons helped the New York City Health Department create the campaign. The flu shot locator is a completely automated system. To set it up, all the department had to do was upload a spreadsheet of all the locations at which someone could get a flu vaccination.
This information and locator look-up tool can also be used for vaccines, clinic locators, and health fairs.
Helping people eat more healthily
The University of Maryland’s Food Supplement Nutrition Education program uses the Mobile Commons platform to send out tips to parents about how to help their children live healthier lifestyles.
The text messages include recipe ideas, fitness tips, school activities, and more. More than 1,000 parents have opted in to the program. Following a one-semester pilot, a survey showed that “73 percent of parents take the actions in the text messages always or most of the time.”
“We’re reaching out to parents and giving them tips on what to buy near them,” says Gloria Fong, Director of Client Experience at Mobile Commons. “For example, instead of just saying, ‘go to a store and buy fruit,’ we say, ‘Bananas are on sale at Food Lion for 20 cents a pound.”
Sending medication reminders
New York Presbyterian, Columbia University, and the Harlem Health Promotion Center createdProject STAY (Services to Assist Youth), a program that sends text message alerts to remind young people with HIV/AIDS to take their medication. Mobile Commons helped set up the text messaging service for the project.
“All the alert says is ‘remember,’” Fong says about the text reminders. “It still keeps the patient’s privacy in mind. It doesn’t say, ‘Remember to take your HIV medicine.”
Patients can also get text message reminders for eye exams, doctor’s appointments, or birth control. The messages also include the contact information for the clinic, in case a patient has to reschedule or cancel the appointment.
Mobile campaigns are improving health care outcomes across the country by reaching people on the device they use the most—their mobile phones. The ability to send personalized messages in a cost-effective manner has become increasingly important for health care institutions in a time where resources are limited. Text messaging can be a powerful and valuable tool for organizations to use to make an impact in their communities, from promoting healthy behaviors to raising awareness on important issues.