Text4baby, a free health education text messaging service for pregnant women and new moms, is reaching its primary target audience of medically underserved women and achieving a number of its health education goals, according to a preliminary assessment presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting this week. The program, made possible through a broad, public-private partnership, is the first free mobile health information service in the United States and is an important example of leveraging widely used technology—in this case, cell phones—in new ways to improve the lives of Americans. Pregnant and new moms who sign up for text4baby (by texting BABY or BEBE to 511411) receive three text messages per week containing health tips and resources.
The study by the National Latino Research Center at California State University and the University of California, San Diego, showed “very high satisfaction with the service, increase in users’ health knowledge, improved interaction with healthcare providers, improved adherence to appointments and immunizations, and increased access to health resources.” The study consisted of interviews with 38 text4baby users and a survey of 122 text4baby users, all in San Diego County. Participants rated text4baby as an 8.5 out of 10 overall, and indicated that:
- 81% have an annual household income under $40,000
- 65% are either uninsured or enrolled in California’s Medicaid program
- 63% said the service helped them remember an appointment or immunization that they or their child needed
- 75% said they learned a medical warning sign they didn’t know previously
- 71% talked to their doctor about a topic they read on a text4baby message
- 39% called a service or phone number they received from a text4baby message (this rose to 53% among individuals without health insurance)
There is much more work to be done to fully understand the impact of text4baby and services like it. To that end, a number of additional evaluation efforts are in the works, including a nationwide evaluation by the Department of Health and Human Services. (From the beginning, U.S. Government participation in text4baby has focused on both the immediate impact the messages could have in improving the lives of women and their babies and on deepening our understanding of the potential of technology to improve health knowledge and behaviors.) Still, these survey results from San Diego County are encouraging news for those who seek to change health knowledge and behaviors via mobile technology.
Text4baby has reached nearly 250,000 people in the U.S., an extraordinary accomplishment especially for a service that requires each person to subscribe. This reach is due primarily to an impressive grass roots movement—facilitated by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, the CTIA Wireless Foundation, Voxiva, and Johnson & Johnson—to make pregnant women, new moms, and the service providers who work with them, aware of text4baby as a free resource. Soon Public Service Announcements supported by the CTIA Wireless Foundation will be made available around the country, which will help even more moms learn about text4baby.
Also, the winners of the text4baby State Enrollment Contest were announced today, representing the states that made the most progress in connecting pregnant women and moms to critical health information via text4baby over the past few months. Congratulations to Delaware, New Hampshire, and North Carolina!
Hillary Chen is a Senior Advisor to the Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP