Text4baby- Why Go Mobile? And the Virginia Experience
By Arlene Remick, MPH
Program Director, text4baby
National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition
Director, Division of Women's and Infant’s Health
Office of Family Health Services
Virginia Department of Health
Deborah Harris, MPH, RD, CDE
Women's Health Coordinator
Division of Women's and Infants' Health
Virginia Department of Health
Pregnant women and new moms can get health information delivered free to their mobile phones through a new innovative program called text4baby. An educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), text4baby provides women with information to help them care for their health and give their babies the best possible start in life. Women who sign up for the service by texting BABY to 511411 (or BEBE in Spanish) receive free SMS text messages each week, timed to their due date or baby’s date of birth.
Mobile phones have potential to play a significant role in health care by delivering information directly to those who need it most. Text messaging can deliver the right health information at the right time to pregnant women and new moms, and can be particularly helpful in reaching underserved populations. While not everyone has access to the Internet, 90 percent of Americans have a mobile phone. Wireless carriers are voluntarily providing the critical communications link of the initiative, distributing text4baby messages to recipients at no charge.
Text4baby is made possible through a broad, public-private partnership that includes government, corporations, academic institutions, professional associations, tribal agencies and nonprofit organizations. Founding partners are HMHB, Voxiva, CTIA - The Wireless Foundation and Grey Healthcare Group (a WPP company). Johnson & Johnson is the founding sponsor, and premier sponsors include WellPoint, Pfizer and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. U.S. government partners include the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense Military Health System. The mobile health platform is provided by Voxiva and free messaging services are generously provided by participating wireless service providers. Implementation partners include BabyCenter, Danya International, Syniverse Technologies, Keynote Systems and The George Washington University. MTV Networks is a media sponsor.
Text4baby partners are critical to the success of this program. In April 2009, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) became the first state to become a text4baby outreach partner. State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Remley designated key staff in the Maternal Child Health Program to partner with HMHB to bring this project into Virginia. VDH created an implementation team that included key stakeholders and members of the existing Health Commissioner’s Infant Mortality Workgroup. Representatives from the Department of Medical Assistance Services/Medicaid, Virginia Section/ACOG, Virginia Chapter/AAP, Virginia Section/AWHONN, Virginia WIC, Richmond City Healthy Start, Virginia Healthy Start Initiative/Loving Steps, Inova Health System (a private practice located in eastern Virginia), and the United Way serve on this team.
Each organization offered to disseminate materials to their clients, promote the text4baby launch to their constituents and encourage service use among their own organization’s employees with a goal for women to receive information about text4baby from multiple sources. Because over 40 percent of all Virginia births are covered by Medicaid, it is particularly important that the Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) is involved in outreach efforts. DMAS revised their new enrollee letter for pregnant women to include information about the service and enrollment. It is hoped this letter will promote early contact with the service. New enrollees began receiving this letter in February. The Medicaid Managed Care Organizations have also developed plans to distribute promotional materials through their existing systems of communication with pregnant women.
Prior to the national launch, the Implementation Team also conducted a beta test of the text4baby service. One private practice site and two Healthy Start sites offered their clients the option of enrolling in text4baby and completing a survey about the service. Findings showed that clients felt the messages were clear, timely and helpful. All respondents reported that they would recommend text4baby to a friend. A few even noted that the messages helped encouraged them to take action, e.g. “eat healthier.”
On February 11, 2010, Secretary of Health and Human Resources of Virginia, William Hazel, MD announced Virginia’s launch of text4baby. He spoke about Virginia's involvement as a national model and highlighted its accomplishment as an unprecedented public/private partnership. Following the launch, multiple organizations have expressed interest in joining the Virginia Implementation Team. Virginia will continue to collaborate with the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition and its partners to promote text4baby throughout the state of Virginia.