On Monday, September 19, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new recommendations of its Text4Health Task Force as well as other initiatives to support health text messaging and encourage development of mobile health (mHealth) programs.
According to a press release issued by HHS, “The department has been actively exploring means to capitalize on the rapid proliferation of mobile phone technology and platforms, such as text messaging, … with the overall aim of improving public health outcomes.” “The potential to provide citizens with an expansive level of access to health resources can help HHS achieve its goal of a healthier nation and help individuals and families get critical information that can improve — and even save — their lives,” the Department said.
HHS established the Text4Health Task Force in November 2010, with the aim of encouraging innovation in the delivery of public health information. The task force, comprised of public health experts throughout HHS, was charged with providing recommendations for HHS’ role in encouraging and developing health text messaging initiatives to deliver health information and resources to individuals via their mobile phones.
Recommendations of the HHS Text4Health Task Force
The report of the Text4Health Task Force issued on Monday recommends that:
- HHS develop and host evidence-based health text message libraries that leverage HHS’ rich and scientifically-based information,
- HHS develop further evidence on the effectiveness of health text messaging programs,
- HHS explore and develop partnerships with other government agencies and with non-government organizations to create, implement and disseminate health text messaging and mHealth programs,
- HHS establish an on-going “mHealth community of practice” group within HHS to meet regularly to discuss and coordinate mHealth issues, and “to systematically explore and discuss which topic areas or health problems might best be addressed by HHS via health text messaging and mobile technologies,”
- HHS should “align [coordinate or integrate] health text messaging/mHealth activities with other HHS Health IT priorities,” such as “Electronic Health Records, Cloud Computing, Health Games,” and others, and
- HHS should “conduct further research into the privacy and security risks associated with text messaging of health information and establish guidelines for managing such privacy/security issues.” For example, the report sites potential issues under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules, and further recommends that “mHealth issues should be discussed within the HHS Inter-Division Health IT Policy and Security Task Force.”
The complete HHS Text4Health Task Force Report and recommendations are available for public comment at http://www.hhs.gov/open.
Other eHealth/ mHealth Initiatives of HHS
The HHS release also highlighted several other eHealth and mHealth initiatives of HHS, particularly those aimed at helping people quit smoking.
“More than 70 percent of smokers want to quit, [and] we are committed to providing evidence based information to smokers through emerging and innovative technology,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in the HHS release.
Since January 2010, HHS has invested $5 million dollars to develop its eHealth/mHealth smoking cessation resources aimed at increasing quitting attempts among teens, young adults and adults, according to the HHS release.
On Monday, HHS announced the launch several additional and new smoking cessation initiatives that have been guided by the HHS Text4Health Task Force:
- NIH National Cancer Institute (NCI) – SmokeFreeTXT program. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is launching the SmokeFreeTXT program, a mobile smoking cessation service specifically designed to help teens and young adults nationwide. This service is an extension of the smoking cessation website, www.smokefree.gov, which consistently receives 70,000 to 100,000 visits per month. Teens and young adults in the U.S. can enroll in this program by visiting http://smokefree.gov/smokefreetxt/default.aspx.
- Library of QuitNowTXT Tips & Motivational Messages. NCI is also launching a library of smoking cessation messages that will provide the foundation for an interactive text-based intervention for adult smokers called QuitNowTXT. The QuitNowTXT text messages provide tips, motivation, encouragement and facts based on information tailored to the user’s response and are available at http://smokefree.gov/hp.aspx.
For information on the success of a similar program according to a scientific study conducted in the UK, see the HelpingYouCare™ report on Automated Motivational Text Messages Help Stop Smoking.
These mobile texting resources will be integrated into the department’s comprehensive tobacco control strategy to further address the burden of tobacco use across our nation.
- Global Public-Private Partnership. HHS is also pursuing opportunities to forge a global public-private partnership to make the QuitNowTXT program available to other countries to reach adult tobacco users. “Organizations committed to collaborating with HHS on this initiative include the mHealth Alliance (hosted by the United Nations Foundation), World Medical Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Center for Global Health at the George Washington University and Johnson & Johnson,” according to the HHS release.
This initiative aims to collaborate with interested countries to support mHealth/text-based demonstration projects using these new text messaging resources, which are now freely available on the mHealth Alliance’s HealthUnbound.org website, HHS said. “Drawing on the experience gained from these demonstration projects, the countries and partners will identify and disseminate best practices for tobacco cessation mHealth/text-based interventions.”
“Mobile device texting initiatives, like this one, have the potential to be a powerful tool to support tobacco cessation globally. Text messaging is widely available, inexpensive, and allows for immediate delivery of cessation information,” said HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.
The QuitNowTXT initiative is consistent with the UN’s Political Declaration of the High Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, which calls upon member states to “encourage the development of multisectoral public policies that create equitable health promoting environments that empower individuals, families and communities to make healthy choices and lead healthy lives,” HHS said.
A description of projects related to the HHS Text4Health Task Force recommendations can be found at: http://www.hhs.gov/open.
HHS announced that the tobacco control message libraries, along with other libraries (smoking cessation for pregnant women, early childhood health, emergency response, etc.) will also be available to the public on HealthData.gov in the future.
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