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Texting 4 Health (Part 2 of “R U Texting?”)

Today’s post is a follow-up to our initial post on text messaging (also known as "texting"). We’re straying from our usual format, in order to share with you some highlights from last week’s Texting4Health Exit Disclaimer Conference at Stanford University Exit Disclaimer.

Two members of the team went to Texting4Health to learn from, and talk with, some of the country’s leading experts in health, behavior change, and mobile technology, who are using texting in health. The conference brought together researchers, public health professionals, nonprofits, government, foundations, businesses, and more.

Bottom line: The team learned A LOT! Below are four take-away messages we’ll share with our colleagues. The key message we heard from the presentations, workshops, and one-on-one meetings was that HIV/AIDS programs can reap significant and cost-effective benefits from integrating text messaging into their work.

  1. Cell phones and texting are everywhere, and they aren’t going away: Richard Adler from the Institute for the Future Exit Disclaimer set the stage by talking about the growth of cell-phone use and the demographics of the folks using them. He said that by the end of 2008, more than one-half of the people in the world will have a cell phone. (That’s almost 3.5 billion people!)
  2. Texting can change health behaviors: Debbi Gillotti, from Healthphone Solutions Exit Disclaimer, talked about New Zealand’s Stop Smoking with Mobile Phones program (STOMP) Exit Disclaimer, a smoking cessation intervention via text messaging. Tina Hoff and Kimberly Dasher from the Kaiser Family Foundation Exit Disclaimer shared how their HIV texting campaigns in the U.S. and the Caribbean use ZIP codes to link people to local HIV testing centers.
  3. Your audience will tell you what they want and how they want it–just ask them! Deb Levine from ISIS Exit Disclaimer talked about her experiences using texting to reach low-income, urban youth with HIV and STD information and resources. She said focus groups and "taking it to the streets" were key to shaping the content and delivery methods of the ISIS campaign. In addition, Deb and many others at the conference also emphasized the importance of testing, changing, and retesting your campaign, based on feedback from the audience you are trying to reach.
  4. There are more and more texting solutions that can help you launch and manage a texting campaign. Ken Banks from Exit Disclaimer (Frontline SMS, an open-source application), Eric Holmen from SmartReply Exit Disclaimer, Paul Meyer from Voxiva Exit Disclaimer, and Benjamin Stein from Mobile Commons Exit Disclaimer, talked about and demonstrated their products. Several presenters mentioned the importance of integrating other tools (such as hotlines and websites) into your texting campaign, depending on your content and the behavioral outcome you want to encourage. They also emphasized starting small. Their advice? Keep it simple while you are getting your feet wet. You can always expand your campaign down the road!

There are lots of ways you can use texting in the fight against HIV. You can send appointment reminders, provide support for medication adherence, help people locate testing locations, and link them to support networks. We encourage you to explore (and share with us!) how you might integrate texting into your work in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

If you are already using texting in your HIV prevention, testing, treatment, or research programs, please let us know. We can all learn from each others’ experiences.

In closing, we want to thank the conference’s organizer, B.J. Fogg Exit Disclaimer, for setting up such a fantastic lineup of speakers, a very well-organized program, and many great opportunities to network.

Stay tuned for next week’s discussion of social networks!