Learning from the Past - SMS in mHealth in Practice

I am probably late to the party, but I just discovered the fantastic set of journal articles "mHealth in Practice" edited by Jonathan Donner and Patricia Mechal. There are far too few such resources available for Mobile for Health practitioners, so it was with great interest that I read through the various case studies looking for lessons learned.

Since one of our goals with TextIt was to allow for these kinds of projects to be easily built and iterated on, I found it really interesting to read the articles while also considering which could be implemented with a standard TextIt installation. Technology is only a small piece of making these programs sustainable, but we believe that by making it easier for organizations to experiment with a tool like TextIt we will accelerate the rate of finding effective solutions that are appropriate to each unique context.

One of my favorite case studies was using SMS Quizzes to increase HIV awareness and knowledge. This style of intervention is near and dear to our heart, both because it was largely pioneered by TextToChange in nearby Uganda and because it is such an easy and clear way of helping educate a population on a public health issue. In this campaign, simple questions are sent out to the population, things like "Do you think a healthy person could have HIV?" and the users are prompted to respond. Based on their response they are educated further on the issue, either reinforcing their knowledge or being taught what the right answer should be. These sort of educational surveys are interesting for two reasons: one, because they provide some measure of the current state of the population when it comes to understanding various issues, and two, because the system corrects incorrect responses it also instantly educates participants.

Combined with even mild prizes, this is a low cost way to spread information and raise awareness. It also happens to be the sort of application that fits right in the sweet spot for TextIt. Building an SMS quiz is the same as building a flow, except you have a lot more options on how to handle results with a Flow. For example, on incorrect responses you could explain the right answer, but then also offer to find out more by responding with 'more', otherwise moving them onto the next question. Combined with slotting users in different groups based on their responses, potentially for further education, you could very easily build a very effective way to reach large audiences.

We think the flexibility of flows, and the richness of the interactions they allow, will really allow for a lot more experimentation on this approach. One thing we know is that every context is different, every intervention unique, but we know that some approaches have promise and we hope that TextIt allows for quicker iteration to find the right fit for your environment.

In future posts we'll talk about some of the other case studies and whether TextIt can help implement them, but if you have your own experiences, good or bad, please share. I also highly recommend reading the full set of articles, there are lots of gems in there.