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HHS Asks: R U Healthy?

Department of Health and Human Services task force issues recommendations for health text messaging on mobile phones.

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In its attempt to promote public health through the use of text messages on mobile phones, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Text4Health Task Force this week issued recommendations to support health text messaging and mobile health (mHealth) programs.

The recommendations are part of HHS' plan to explore new initiatives that will capitalize on the rapid proliferation of mobile phone technology and platforms. The department is also trying to reach key demographics, including teens and minorities.

Eighty five percent of U.S. adults and 75% of teenagers own mobile phones, but only 17% use them to access health information, according to a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. African American cell phone owners are more likely than other groups to use health apps: 15% do so, compared with 7% of white and 11% of Latino cell phone users.

Dr. Joseph Kvedar, founder and director of the Center for Connected Health, said his organization sees only growth in the use of text messaging for health information, especially in underserved populations. He described the Text4Health Task Force recommendations as "well thought out" strategies that will advance the use of text messaging to exchange health information among a wider swath of the population.

[Which healthcare organizations came out ahead in the IW500 competition? See 10 Healthcare IT Innovators: InformationWeek 500.]

"These recommendations suggest we've crossed the threshold of proof of concept and now need to examine and build the requirements for scale," Kvedar told InformationWeek Healthcare. To develop its recommendations, the Text4Health Task Force relied on information gleaned from programs such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's H1N1 Flu Text Messaging Pilot, the Text4Baby program, and research supported by the National Institutes of Health on the mDiet research program.

The Task Force urges HHS to:

-- Develop and host evidenced-informed health text message libraries to leverage HHS' rich and scientifically-based information.

-- Develop partnerships to create, implement and disseminate health text messaging and mHealth programs.

-- HHS should form a mobile health (mHealth) community of practice, initially led by HHS staff in the Office of the Secretary, that meets regularly to discuss and coordinate mHealth activities, including health text messaging, across the Department.

-- HHS should align health text messaging/mHealth activities with other HHS Health IT priorities such as support for electronic health records, cloud computing and health games.

-- HHS should conduct further research into the privacy and security risks associated with text messaging of health information and establish guidelines for managing privacy and security issues.

-- HHS agencies (FDA, NIH, AHRQ, ONC) 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.

On a related note, HHS announced that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is launching a mobile smoking cessation service that will target teens and young adults. Dubbed the SmokeFreeTXT program, the service is an extension of the NCI's core smoking cessation website, which receives between 70,000 and 100,000 visits per month.

Additionally, NCI is launching a library of smoking cessation text messages that includes motivation, encouragement and information for an interactive text-based intervention targeting adult smokers called QuitNowTXT.

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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