SMS text-based strategies to achieve health outcomes
Although the Healthcare Engagement Strategy Awards does not set out to focus on any particular channel, we do sometimes come across a channel that stands out for special recognition. This year, we discovered amongst our finalists a surprising technology platform that has been playing a critical role in saving lives and improving health right across the globe, even in the most remote areas.
To be honest, these tremendous initiatives are not about technology; they are about resolving health issues, lack of information and connecting people in the best accessible way. Indeed, access to quality information is one of primarily health needs all over the world. During our research on worldwide healthcare engagement initiatives, we discovered three tremendous initiatives from different regions of the world (Africa, India, USA), in what might be considered the developing world as well as the developed world. These three initiatives are all primarily using the same communication channel: SMS text messaging via mobile telephones.
We have chosen to award our ‘Surprise Healthcare Engagement Channel Award’ to all three initiatives, since the interest is in their differences as well as their similarities. We have highlighted them all in order to share the insights we found.
Text to Change
The Text to Change website explains how the system works
Text to Change (TTC) is a nonprofit organization that helps citizens of countries affected by poverty and conflict to access health information by using SMS. Indeed, Text to Change use quizzes sent via SMS to educate, engage and empower people living in Africa.
Launched in 2007, thanks to financial support from a major pharmaceutical company, Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD), Text to Change has been designed to help people by using their existing systems of communication.
“We wanted to use what people already had in their pocket, things that everybody had access to… Text messaging is a simple technology but it works everywhere”, said Hajo van Beijma, co-founder & Partnership Director of Text to Change.
Here is one of the key points of this initiative; choosing the most effective way to communicate with people and not the newest technology.
Van Beijma told me that, in the mobile health, or ‘mHealth’ field, it was also very important to “work with local content. Localizing the content will increase the outcome of mHealth programs and you should also work with local organisation on the technology”. Local content, local implementation is clearly another key for success.
In fact, “depending on cultural or religious aspects, you have to change the content” said van Beijma. Moreover it is essential to listen to people’s needs and engage them in the projects you are setting up, get feedback and work on it to improve and your outcomes.
Text4baby, a USA-based initiative, is providing health information and tips to American mothers. It has been founded by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), an informal coalition leaded by six organizations that have the same goals: to improve the quality and reach of public and professional education related to prenatal and infant care.
“Text4baby is filling a void in the nation’s public health system in communicating with low-income women and new mothers, who have limited access to critical obstetric and paediatric information and care”, said Judy Meehan, CEO of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition. Indeed, here like in the other initiatives we have highlighted, Text4baby is using SMS to deliver a mobile information service free.
Partnerships, a key for this long term initiative
This initiative is a great example of a long term initiative to reach health outcomes. Another time to make this possible and being able to communicate and provide needed information to thousands of moms in the United States, partnerships are essential.
text4baby’s partnerships page indicates the breadth of support from partners
Moreover, Text4baby has built an unprecedented public / private partnership, bringing together pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and U.S. Government Partners like the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services among others.
“Text4baby is making great strides in seeing that every woman has the information she needs to have a healthy pregnancy and get her baby off to a great start”, says Brian Perkins, Vice President Corporate Affairs at Johnson & Johnson.
Social Media to federate a community and spread the word
Text4baby is also using social media to connect women and supporters of this initiative and give them places online by engaging on Facebook page, a twitter account and also by creating a social network through Ning.
This year, Text4baby’s challenge will be to reach 1 million women by 2012 via SMS.
text4baby is using Facebook, Twitter and a Ning social network to connect with women
Indian Blood Donors
Indian Blood Donors website is a simple but effective call to action to sign up by SMS
India faces a major shortage of blood and patients often die for want of blood. Indian Blood Donors has created a community of people ready to give their blood to others who need it, when they need it. To reach their vision, “Nobody should die for want of blood in india”, Khushroo Poacha and his wife have used the power of the Internet and the mobile telephone to bridge the gap between donors and needy people.
Firstly, they started with an online website where people needed to log on to reach blood donors, but during a presentation of indianblooddonors.com to students of a Business school, one of them asked the question to Khushroo Poacha, “Sir, how do you propose to reach the common man? Everybody in india does not have access to the Internet.” This got him thinking: “One day I was watching a cricket match at home. Indian Blood Donors co-founder, my wife, asked me to get some groceries. When I was out buying the groceries I wanted to know the score so I sent an SMS to a short code and immediately got to know the cricket score. This was the Eureka moment.”
This was the start of the SMS helpline that is making a big difference today: “Two years back we were only helping people who were tech savvy and who had access to the net. Today, after mobile-enabling the helpline we are reaching [more people]. Patients are using the helpline from their hospital bed. They coordinate with the blood donors while in their bed and ask them to help them out. We are reaching small towns and villages which we would never have been able to reach had we been web-enabled only.”
Indian Blood Donors is also moderating a Facebook page which allows people to share their experience, seek help, give feedback and more: “And we also like to see transparency. Everything is out there in black and white. It also helps to spread the word about Indian Blood Donors”.
Indian Blood Donors uses Facebook to spread the word and stay
connected to those supporters who have access to the Internet
“The mobile phone has a great future in the health sector. People should use it. Our dream is to start a global helpline”
, says Poacha.
Text to Change, text4baby, and Indian Blood Donors; for the way you have each taken SMS texting, an everyday technology, and applied it to make a huge difference, we award you the Healthcare Engagement Strategy 2011 Remarkable Healthcare Engagement Channel Award.
Read about other winners of the Healthcare Engagement Strategy Awards 2011.
Contact Creation Healthcare to discuss your views and find out how their insights into healthcare engagement can help you achieve better health outcomes.