HHS throws its weight behind text-based initiatives

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' new Text4Health Task Force has a library of text messages and other communications hospitals can use to improve their smoking cessation programs. It's part of several new initiatives the task force just announced, cementing the agency's support of, and commitment to, mobile and text-based health systems.

The library of messages, aimed primarily at adult smokers, is called QuitNowTXT and provides users with motivational messages, quit-smoking tips, encouragement and health facts targeted to the individual user. Another initiative, SmokeFreeTXT, is tailored for teen smokers, and pushes the task force's core smoking cessation website out to mobile devices. HHS officials say the website already achieves between 70,000 and 100,000 visits per month, and hopes the mobile initiative will drive more young smokers to the site.

HHS' ambition for the task force's initiatives isn't just within the U.S. HHS officials want to partner with other nations to distribute the QuitNowTXT program globally, in hopes of improving public health around the world.

"Mobile device texting initiatives, like this one, have the potential to be a powerful tool to support tobacco cessation globally," HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said in a statement. "Text messaging is widely available, inexpensive, and allows for immediate delivery of cessation information."

And the task force isn't just focused on smoking cessation, either. It just issued a set of recommendations--most of them more internally directed--to encourage use of messaging and mobile systems across all federal programs and in the healthcare industry at large. Task force members recommended that HHS:

  • Evaluate the effectiveness of health-related text messaging programs.
  • Partner with industry organizations to create text- and mobile-enabled health programs.
  • Get all departments on the same page within HHS in terms of mHealth initiatives and text messaging.
  • Put text messaging/mHealth right up alongside other top HHS health IT priorities like electronic health records.
  • Identify privacy/security issues, and possible solutions or guidelines.

To learn more:
- read the Becker's Hospital Review story
- check out the HHS press release