Harvard Pilgrim Uses Text Messages to Motivate Healthy Parenting

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Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, a unique collaboration between Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, one of the nation’s top health care plans and Harvard Medical School, one of the nation’s top academic institutions, is a leader in innovative public health research. They’ve proven this once again with a new campaign to use SMS messaging to help motivate healthier parenting. The program, which reaches out to the parents of young children, combines informational texts about child health with behavior tracking to see how the program’s participants are actually performing.

The campaign sends out educational messages – for example, informing parents about the sugar content of juices and energy drinks, or the importance of exercise. They’ve combined that information with related tracking questions, asking parents how many sugary beverages their children drink that week, how much television they watched, how many hours they played outside, etc. As soon as the parents respond, they’re automatically sent follow-up messages – either praising them for meeting recommended behavioral goals, or encouraging them to do better in the future.

The system also tracks week to week whether the users are making improvements in their child’s health behaviors. So for example, if in week one the parents let their children watch 40 hours of television, but in week two, they only let them watch 30 hours, the system would register that improvement – while still encouraging them to do better. Throughout the program, the parents occasionally speak with a health coach to set goals and evaluate their progress.

The Harvard Pilgrim initiative comes on the heels of hundreds of new studies and programs that show that mHealth – mobile health initiatives – can help encourage better behaviors and motivate healthy lifestyles.

Here are just a few:

-       Crowdsourced health reports help Detroit discover the cause of an asthma epidemic

-       New study shows that smokers’ quite rates double with text message support

-       SMS helps with flu vaccine reminders

-       Two studies that show that SMS helps smokers quit

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