SMS makes its way into US health care

Text messaging isn’t exactly big news. Most people have heard about it, even if they associate it only with teens who’ve given up talking on the phone or even meeting in person in order to spend their time texting. But text messaging has actually been slower to catch on with the general population in the US than has been the case overseas. And of course health care isn’t usually the rapid adopter of new communications tools.

Clickatell, which provides SMS text messaging solutions in various industries around the world thanks to its relationships with over 700 mobile carriers, is making a push into the health care space. I spoke yesterday with the company’s EVP of marketing, Chuck Drake in advance of today’s announcement that Clickatell is partnering with three health care organizations. (Although you wouldn’t know it from his Clickatell profile, Chuck actually has experience in the pharmaceutical world, where he worked on Rx to OTC switches for GSK.)

Clickatell has an interesting initial list of health care partners:

  • A branch of the UK’s National Health Service, “which will raise awareness around health issues such as diet, drugs and safe sex among the general public, with a specific focus on teen health.” Teens can send simple messages like “stop smoking” and get info in return. (You can bet that some of the requests will be a little more titillating than the one chosen for the press release.)
  • ComplyRx, a Georgia-based health care compliance company. According to ComplyRx’s president, “Text messaging provides and inexpensive and convenient way for doctors to communicate with patients or caregivers to remind them of important medical treatments, and Clickatell… ensure[s] that… messages don’t get lost…”
  • Cell-Life, a non-profit that uses SMS to send HIV/AIDS management information to South Africans.

I told Chuck I was somewhat skeptical about the ability of older Americans, who are the principal users of health care, to use text messaging. He told me I should put aside my thoughts of how teens text on a peer-to-peer basis and think instead about the receipt of messages from an entity like ComplyRx or a bank. That’s a much lower hurdle to clear and is good for applications such as appointment and medication reminders as well as basic educational information.

I also wonder about whether consumers will object to seeing text messaging charges on their cell phone bills, but according to Chuck the days of carriers charging for individual messaging are coming to an end. (I hope someone tells my carrier about that.)

What I like about SMS for health care is its low cost and ease of use. I’m hopeful that it will catch on.

April 15, 2008

3 thoughts on “SMS makes its way into US health care”

  1. Text message lite, text enabled pager, is used by many residents and attendings across the country, especially the larger medical centers. I actually think the threshold for SMS is probably lower than you might think. Docs much rather receive a text question or piece of information rather than return pages.

  2. Health care information by SMS is a very good idea. Need to make sure that the information is coming from trustable source. Minister of Health in every country should implement this in their country.

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