Three Approaches to mHealth
By Audie Atienza, PhD, Senior Health Technology Advisor, HHS
There are more wireless devices being used in the U.S. than there are people (CTIA, 2011)! Over 50% of U.S. adults are using wireless devices, such as cell phones, to access the internet, with 78% of wireless device users searching online for health information ( Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2010). Over the next few months, we will be highlighting HHS mobile health (mHealth) activities, initiatives and programs in a series of blogs. Following the September 2011 blog by Todd Park that highlighted the HHS Text4Health Task Force recommendations, this blog examines three different approaches to mHealth programs using cell phones, providing examples of HHS programs for each approach.
- Adapting To The Mobile Web: Several agencies have created mobile phone versions of their websites. Two examples are mobile AIDS.gov and the National Library of Medicine’s mobile Medline Plus. In this approach, internet pages are optimized for the screens and browsers of feature phones and/or smart phones. Using web standards (e.g., WURFL) and adhering to accessibility guidelines may offer the most cost-effective approach for reaching mobile internet users with mobile web programs.
- Using Short Messaging Services (SMS)/Text Messaging – This approach leverages text messaging, a feature that is nearly ubiquitous in all mobile phones. One example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Mobile Tips and Alerts” program, sends everyday health information via SMS to those who sign up by texting CDCHEALTH to 87000. This approach requires the development and maintenance of a back-end library of authoritative health messages.
- Mobile Apps & Smartphone Widgets – These are software programs that reside on smart phones. For example, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute created a mobile app version of its web-based BMI calculator, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration developed a Treatment Locator mobile app. One benefit of this approach is the ability to provide reliable health information based on HHS expertise when the user calls for it (app) or available on a continuous basis (widget). However, the lack of interoperability among smart phone operating systems often requires different versions of health programs, and not everyone owns a smart phone.
Overall, these three approaches demonstrate opportunities to meet the public’s need for immediate, relevant, accessible health information. One size (or approach) does not fit all, so those developing programs need to carefully consider which approach may best reach the most people in their target population, given budgetary, staffing or technical constraints. What’s clear is that HHS is innovating using all three approaches! We’d love your input on these (and other) HHS programs using mobile phones, as well as, opinions on these three approaches. Please add a comment below!
We have been using SMS to compliment our traditional partner services since Jan of this year. Has worked really well with an above 50% reply.