Text Messaging to Promote Healthy Behavior

Technology is changing how health information is delivered.

In a February 2011 Op Ed piece in the New York Times, David Bornstein described a program called text4baby, a service that sends text messages at no cost to pregnant women and women with babies under a year old. The purpose of the text messages is to provide health information and reminders that improve health (e.g. immunization schedule). The text messaging service is funded by community organizations, cell phone providers, businesses, and governmental agencies. As of the date the NY Times piece was written, 135,000 women had signed up to receive the “healthy baby” text messages.

Women who wish to receive the text messages text the word “baby” or “bebe” (for messages in Spanish) to the number 511411. Prompts ask for the due date or baby’s date of birth and zip code. Informative text messages are then sent three times a week.

More than 90 percent of Americans have a cell phone (and I thought everyone had one). Text messaging is therefore an approach that could reach large groups of people in a fast, cost-effective way. Text messaging also can be used to reach targeted groups. The challenge is keeping people engaged once they sign up to receive health-related text messages. Clinicians may want to give some thought as to how text messaging could be used to promote health in additional ways, such as smoking cessation, healthy eating, safe driving, etc. There appears to be a limitless potential for its use in providing health education.