Beacon Community: 4 ways to market mobile health efforts

One in 10 Michigan residents have diabetes--in Detroit that number is more than 16 percent and in some zip codes it's even higher than that. The Southeast Michigan Beacon Community (SEMB), one of several Beacon Community pilots under the aegis of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), has attacked the problem on several fronts.

Terrisca Des Jardins, SMBC's director, says the Beacon Community uses technology to reach vulnerable populations and raise awareness of diabetes, the risk of the disease and how to manage it. 

One of its programs, Text4Health, delivers text messages to promote healthy behaviors among those who have been diagnosed with or are at risk for diabetes. The interactive, personalized 14 week text-based program helps participants assess their risk for developing diabetes, set goals and track weight and activity levels.

The program, which is in place in two other states, as well, is similar to the national text4baby program, it sends users tailored educational and motivational messages and helps them connect to local resources. Content is based on recommendations and guidelines of federal and national sources, including the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association.

"We are collecting extensive user data. We collect, through the enrollment process, people's age, weight, height, family history, their exercise habits and other data. We also have the ability to track connections to care, so the system prompts those that might fall into a high-risk category whether or not they visited a physician upon prompting from the technology tool. We'll also be conducting some direct user research with those who actually made it through the 14 week messaging curriculum on whether or not they saw any weight loss, achieved exercise goals and such," Des Jardins said.

Marketing the program

It's one thing to launch a program--you also have to get people to use it. SEMB launched a multi-prong approach to market its initiative.

"We put together a very micro-targeted campaign. We have certain efforts rolled out across all of the counties ... that are more targeted than others," she said during an National eHealth Collaborative Webcast.

"We put it on bus lines, we put the messaging in laundry-mats and community centers and other places where we identified a higher propensity of diabetes. The campaign has a defiant but proactive attitude. We're trying to create a sense of urgency but not fear."

The Text4Health marketing campaign has four components:

1. Live event

The campaign kicked off in February with luncheon and community roundtable that featured local leaders and U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Her support created a level of excitement and garnered lots of press coverage, Des Jardins said.

2. Radio, TV and online

A public service announcement "takeover" flooded the airwaves with the program's public service announcement--it played more than 4,000 times on radio, online and on TV. 

"None of these [news outlets] had to do this," Des Jardins noted. "They wanted to do it and they're still actually playing [the PSAs] on the airwaves."

There's also a Text4Health Detroit Facebook page.

3. Guerilla marketing

"We deployed street teams, where we sent out dozens of people to different locations across Detroit and around the suburbs to spread the word about Text4Health. All of them carried umbrellas and wore white hats and white scarves with the Text4Health and 'Fighting D in the D' logos and messaging on them, as well as distributed pamphlets and other information to encourage people to enroll in Text4Health," Des Jardins said.

4. Community outreach

More than 60 local organizations--including community centers, neighborhood service groups, soup kitchens and faith-based organizations helped spread the word.  SMBC also exhibited at several "Project Healthy Living" events across Southeast Michigan, hosted by a local network that includes media outlets and payers.


Enrollment is slowly growing-there are currently 650 people using Text4Health, but the program has faced some hurdles. 

"We have found there are some limitations around the use of the system. It can cost people money. While the service itself is not charging a fee, standard text messaging rates do apply. We're also bound by federal rules to make sure that we let people know that they may be charged through their carrier for data and standards messaging rates," Des Jardins said.

"But what it has done--and 650 is certainly nothing to cough at and we're excited about that-is that it has gotten our stakeholders energized and engaged around something everybody can support and it's led to interest in other activities that we're trying to roll out through Beacon."

To learn more:
- check out a video highlighting the efforts of the Southeast Michigan Beacon Community
- visit the Text4Health Detroit and SMBC Facebook pages
- watch the "Fighting D in the D" public service announcement
- here's ONC's Beacon Community Program site and its SMBC information page

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