Mobile applications are on the verge of overtaking social network sites as the next BIG thing in the digital health world. The signals are coming through in many places. At the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media there was a session dedicated to presentations about applications of mobile in public health in which I participated. Yet, in another session, the speaker tried to stress the mobile bonafides of a program that simply featured an actress using a mobile phone in a public service announcement – I don’t even remember the health topic as I was too preoccupied with sorting out what having a cellphone in a PSA had to do with ‘going mobile.’ But clearly the perceived professional norm is to become engaged with this new media.
One example of a useful application of mobile is a HIV prevention campaign by the BBC World Service Trust that is producing public service advertising to promote condom use in 4 states in India. The campaign strategy is based on their research finding that men who talk about sex are more likely to use condoms consistently. The objective is to get men talking about condoms. The PSA released this month does use a cellphone, but it is executed around how the ringtone goes off at a wedding with the chant of condoms, condoms and a SMS call-to-action to download it to your phone (entertaining to say the least). At the campaign website people can also download the campaign ringtone and wallpaper - nice execution for a campaign designed to get men talking (and you too can get it here) and a reminder that mobile doesn’t have to work in a communication silo – media multiplexity is important. [thanx to Mobile Active for that tip]
Then there are the calls I get to talk about this work. Though most of the program at the Digital Pharma conference in October centers on social networks, Cheryl Ann Borne from Skyscape and I will be doing a pre-conference workshop on Using Mobile Technologies in Pharma Marketing Initiatives to Support Behavior Change in Key Stakeholders. Also on my schedule in the next month for presentations on mobile applications in public health are the National Safety Council Congress & Expo and the Illinois Public Health Institute Conference. And though I won't be able to make it, MobileActive 08, a global summit on mobile technology for social impact to be held 13-15 October in Johannesburg looks like a great event.
I also came across an announcement of the formation of a membership organization Center for Cell Phone Applications in Healthcare. Among the benefits they list for mobile the technology:
- Cell phone and smart phone users can store their personal health information safely and securely on their phone in order to share it with authorized healthcare professionals when healthcare services are needed.
- Specific software can provide preferred and easy communication between healthcare providers, patients, payers, pharmacists, and others, facilitating medication reminders for patients, appointment scheduling, easy emergency calling, and other functions.
- The cell phone can serve as the platform for consumer health-related software such as wellness-related programs and disease management programs. A wealth of functions related to diseases ranging from asthma to diabetes, from smoking cessation to general pediatric applications, are currently being developed and tested.
- Offering consumers health-related Internet access, cell phones can allow a patient to quickly and easily look up information about medications or symptoms of their health status. Imagine a patient looking up a specific medication after it has been prescribed at a clinic visit, noting it interacts with another of their medications that they failed to mention during their visit and alerting the clinic physician – also via the cell phone - before having the prescription filled.
- Cell phones can be very efficient tools for medical research, enabling patient data to be transmitted easily and instantaneously to authorized, pre-programmed research centers.
This list might give the people planning and developing a national health information network some things to think about. And they don't even address the use of mobile technology for health promotion and disease management.
Plenty to think about and act on. If you work in a nonprofit organization and want to explore how you can set up your own text-based mobile applications for minimal costs (the basic software is free), then check out FrontlineSMS and the Desktop SMS Campaign Tools discussion.