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Seizing the Mobile Opportunity: The Health Resources and Services Administration Experience

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HRSA Find a Health Center Mobile App

Have you or your clients used your phone to find a community health center? Did you know there’s an app for that? In 2011, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) released their “Find a Health Center”  mobile app. Simply type in a ZIP code or select “my current location” and click the ‘Find Centers’ button to find the closest source of affordable health care – even if you have no health insurance.

The app reflects HRSA’s mission to improve access to health care. As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, mobile reaches beyond apps to mobile-ready sites and text messaging. It’s important to understand what’s best for your audiences. While conducting usability tests for HRSA.gov, the web and electronic media team at HRSA repeatedly heard from patients at HRSA-supported HIV/AIDS clinics and community health centers that their mobile phone “was their computer to find health services and learn about health issues.”  HRSA also observed community health center (CHC) and Ryan White HIV/AIDS program staff – health care providers, patient navigators, social workers and more – relying extensively on mobile phones as they support clients. This is consistent with findings from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which reports that 15% of adults use their mobile phone to access health information Exit Disclaimer.

As the primary federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable, HRSA administers the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program which reaches an estimated 529,000 people each year. It also manages the CHC program which cared for nearly 20 million patients last year. HRSA has a national database of CHCs and believed that it could be packaged to meet these needs of their clients. This is an example of seizing what Steven VanRoekel, Chief Information Officer of the United States, called “the mobile opportunity”.

Response to the app – available for iPhone, Android, and generic smart phones — has been positive. An average of 100 people have downloaded the iPhone version each month since its release in May 2011. HRSA created a widget to share the “Find a Health Center” app. Get the code at HRSA’s Data Warehouse. HRSA averages 7000 visits per month to their web page about the app.

What were some lessons from HRSA’s experience?  For one thing, the actual programming was not as difficult as anticipated.  The challenge lies “in determining what existing content is best suited for the target audience,”  HRSA Web Manager Joni Johns told me. Development “doesn’t have to be resource intensive; it needs to be thoughtful and grounded.”

What’s next? Landmark-based searches for the health center app are on the way.  Joni is asking if going “backwards” to older technology, like SMS texting, may help HRSA to better reach out-of-care clients – “Find A Health Center” by text may be next.

As more federal agencies seize the mobile opportunity, AIDS.gov will blog on their experiences.

Have you tried this app, available in Android Market and the iPhone App Store? Send your comments to contact@hrsa.gov.

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