Getting The (Text) Message Across

Kate Huvane Gamble, Managing Editor, hsCIO.com

Kate Huvane Gamble, Managing Editor, hsCIO.com

“A maternity concierge? What does she do, pick up your dry cleaning?”

This was my husband’s response when I told him about the maternity concierge offered by my OB/GYN practice.

“No, although that would be nice,” I said. “It means you have someone you can contact directly with any questions or concerns.”

I was told she would also help schedule appointments. Because I was considered high-risk, and therefore would be seeing a perinatologist as well as an OB, this was a big selling point. I also liked the idea of having someone I could call or e-mail with my many questions: Can I use Icy-Hot on my aching back? Is it safe to travel after six months? What on earth is ‘soft cheese’ (one of the many foods pregnant women are told to avoid)?

A maternity concierge (also known as a prenatal coordinator) is a great concept, and something that could definitely attract patients.

But the execution of this idea? Not so great.

When I had my first prenatal visit, I met — very briefly — with the prenatal coordinator. Instead of giving me her email or a direct line, I was told to use the main office number, and I’d be transferred to her. And when I asked for information on nutrition and exercise during pregnancy, her response was: “Oh, that’s all on our website.”

I needed a concierge for that? It’s like going to a travel agency (yes, they do still exist) and being told, “Why don’t you try Expedia?”

As it turned out, I never heard from the concierge during my pregnancy. The service I’d heard so much about left a lot to be desired.

So when I was catching up on some reading and came across yet another story about the Text4baby, I decided to take a closer look. I’d heard quite a bit about the service, which provides useful information to pregnant women and new mothers through free text messages. Through the service, which was launched in 2010 by the National Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Coalition, among other organizations, subscribers receive information about topics such as labor signs and symptoms, developmental milestones, immunizations, and nutrition.

Sounds simple, right? It is. And according to new research from the National Latino Research Center (NLRC) at California State University-San Marcos and the University of California-San Diego, it’s pretty effective.

Here’s what the study found:

  • 74 percent of participants said text4baby informed them of medical warning signs they weren’t aware of
  • 67 percent reported that they had talked with their doctor about a topic contained in a text4baby message
  • 65 percent said text4baby helped them remember an appointment or immunization
  • 40 percent called a service or phone number that they received from a text4baby message

What’s perhaps even more impressive is that the service — which has more than a half million subscribers — has also led to a shift in attitudes and beliefs toward pregnancy and child care, according to a BMC Public Health study. Participants who received Text4baby messages said they felt more prepared for motherhood than those who didn’t receive them, and were more likely to acknowledge the dangers of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

And that’s just one example. Results from a pilot launched by Partners Community Health (part of Partners HealthCare) and Partners’ Center for Connected Health found that pregnant women who received texts were more likely to attend prenatal visits. Although it was a small-scale study, the data is encouraging, particularly since it involved high-risk pregnancies.

But what resonates most with me is the fact that these researchers are taking a service that millions of people already use, and leveraging it to improve patient health. It just makes sense.

“Text messaging is a mainstream mode of communication for many people,” said Joe Kvedar, MD, director of the Center for Connected Health, in an online article. “Our goal is to move health care out of the doctor’s office and into the day-to-day lives of our patients. We are using readily available technology, such as cell phones, to engage patients and help them better manage their health.”

According to the article, Partners plans to expand the program. And with patient engagement becoming a higher priority on everyone’s list, I have no doubt other organizations will follow suit. A program that can help improve patient health at a low cost, using a function that’s already incorporated into their daily lives?

Now that is service.

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