Kaiser clinic experiments with text reminders

Some of the technologies described in this month's Wired cover story are in use at Kaiser Permanente's Santa Rosa (CA) Medical Center, which serves as a test lab of sorts for the whole organization's online initiatives.

Kendra Markle, director of Internet services for the Santa Rosa clinic, has found that wireless technologies really can increase patient self-tracking. "The text message is the perfect reminder," Markle said Monday at the Healthcare Unbound conference in Seattle. The health center has found success in sending patient-specific tips for stress management each day, at different times of the day, reaching people in real time, wherever they happen to be. "People always stop to read messages," Markle says.

She also cites happyfactor.com, which tracks levels of happiness over time. Similarly, that site sends SMS queries at random times of the day, asking how happy the recipient is. After responding, the user can go to the web and follow mood patterns, which Markle says helps people figure out what behaviors create happiness and which lead to down moods.

"Tracking can really be personalized," Markle says.

Add GPS to the equation and cell phones can encourage and reinforce healthy behavior. A "new opportunity," Markle says, is with Google Maps. Around lunchtime, the system can show where healthy restaurants are in relationship to the user, or provide a message such as, "You're passing the gym right now."