The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) wants to use mobile phones to improve public health.
“The department has been actively exploring means to capitalize on the rapid proliferation of mobile phone technology and platforms, such as text messaging, to develop programs and/or partnerships with the overall aim of improving public health outcomes,” according to a recent HHS press release. ”The potential to provide citizens with an expansive level of access to health resources can help HHS achieve its goal of a healthier nation and help individuals and families get critical information that can improve—and even save—their lives.”
To that end, HHS established the Text4Health Task Force in November 2010. The task force was charged with providing recommendations for HHS’ role in encouraging and developing health text messaging initiatives that would deliver health information and resources to individuals via their mobile phones.
The task force has concluded, “Health text messaging and mobile health technologies offer significant potential for addressing HHS key priority areas,” and announced Sept. 19 the following recommendations:
- HHS should develop and host evidenced-informed health text message libraries. This information should be open access and free to the public. Areas prime for development include smoking cessation, emergency response/preparedness, early childhood health, maternal/child health, heart disease, diabetes, mental health, oral health, and obesity.
- HHS should develop further evidence on the effectiveness of health text messaging programs.
- HHS should explore and develop partnerships to create, implement, and disseminate health text messaging and mobile health (mHealth) programs.
- HHS should form a community of practices to discuss and coordinate mHealth activities, including health text messaging. The group would systematically explore and discuss which topic areas or health problems might best be addressed by HHS via health text messaging and mobile technologies.
- HHS should integrate health text messaging/mHealth with other HHS health information technology priorities (e.g., electronic health records (EHRs), cloud computing, health games, etc.).
- HHS should conduct further research into the privacy and security risks associated with text messaging of health information and establish guidelines for managing such privacy/security issues. The task force notes that text messaging programs may be subject to numerous privacy and security laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules.
- HHS agencies (FDA, NIH, AHRQ, ONC, etc.) should conduct research on future trends of text messaging technologies and establish regulatory guidelines for these interactive systems that can be used in treating, curing, mitigating, or preventing diseases or conditions.
HHS has already embarked on several health text messaging initiatives, including the ‘text4baby’ program. HHS has also invested $5 million since January 2010 to develop its eHealth/mHealth smoking cessation resources, aimed at increasing quitting attempts among teens, young adults, and adults. Similarly, the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health is launching the SmokeFreeTXT program, a mobile smoking cessation service specifically designed for teens and young adults across the United States.
“Mobile device texting initiatives, like this one, have the potential to be a powerful tool to support tobacco cessation globally,” said HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park. “Text messaging is widely available, inexpensive, and allows for immediate delivery of cessation information.”
Approximately 2.2 trillion text messages were sent in the United States in 2010. According to HHS, a growing body of empirical studies suggests that mobile phone text messaging use can be effective in improving health behaviors and health outcomes, and the agency predicts that mobile health technologies will also be beneficial to those populations who currently have the least access to health information.
September 29th, 2011