Pilot taps text to deliver prenatal support for rural moms-to-be

A new program developed by University of British Columbia researchers aims to provide pregnant women living in rural locations with needed prenatal care through text messaging.

The effort--dubbed SmartMom Canada--will be launched in B.C.'s northern region and the Fraser Valley Health area with support from the university's Child and Family Research Institute, the Vancouver Sun reported. The texts will inform women about options and resources in their community, and encourage discussion of issues and options in pregnancy with care providers.

"In northern B.C. one of the issues is that women are not able to attend prenatal classes because of the distance involved and the sparseness of the population, so we came up with the idea of delivering prenatal education through text messaging," UBC School of Population and Public Health professor Patti Janssen told the Sun.

Text technology via smartphones was chosen, as not every home has Internet access or a PC, Janseen said, but the expectant mothers all have cell phones.

The UBC team has launched a crowdsourcing effort at Indiegogo to raise a needed $100,000 for the program. As of May 2, the fund had raised nearly $4,000. Prenatal classes were initially supported by public funds but that support has shrunk and moms living in rural areas have little opportunity for such services. A telehealth approach, say researchers, helps solve both issues of cost and access.

A year-long evaluation publicized last May of text4baby, a free mobile information service designed to promote maternal and child health through text messaging, found the program to be effective. The findings were based on a survey developed by researchers from the National Latino Research Center at California State University San Marcos and the University of California San Diego, with support from the Alliance Healthcare Foundation, which was administered to 631 unique text4baby users in San Diego. The survey results indicated that text4baby increased "users' health knowledge, facilitating interaction with health providers, reminding them of their appointments and immunizations, and improving access to health services." 

For more information:
- read the news report
- check out the crowdfunding effort

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