HHS Text4Health, mHealth initiatives focus on smoking cessation

By Molly Merrill
09:38 AM

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new recommendations and initiatives on Monday to support health text messaging and mobile health (mHealth) programs.

In November 2010, HHS established the Text4Health Task Force as part of the agency’s commitment to promoting innovation at HHS. The task force, comprised of public health experts across HHS, was charged with providing recommendations for HHS’ role in encouraging and developing health text messaging initiatives, which would deliver health information and resources to individuals via their mobile phones.

The report 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, and
  • HHS explore and develop partnerships to create, implement and disseminate health text messaging and mHealth programs. The full HHS Text4Health Task Force recommendations are available for public comment here.

“Mobile device texting initiatives, like this one, have the potential to be a powerful tool to support tobacco cessation globally," according to the report. "Text messaging is widely available, inexpensive and allows for immediate delivery of cessation information.”

Since January 2010, and consistent with these recommendations, 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.

On Monday HHS also launched several new initiatives that have been guided by the HHS Text4Health Task Force.

  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health is launching the SmokeFreeTXT program, a mobile smoking cessation service specifically designed for teens and young adults across the United States. The service is an extension of the core smoking cessation website, which consistently achieves between 70,000 – 100,000 visits on a monthly basis. Teens and young adults in the U.S. can enroll in this program here .

“More than 70 percent of smokers want to quit, we are committed to providing evidence based information to smokers through emerging and innovative technology,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

  • NCI is also launching a library of smoking cessation messages, which provide the foundation for an interactive text-based intervention for adult smokers called QuitNowTXT. The QuitNowTXT text messages offer tips, motivation, encouragement and facts based on information tailored to the user’s response and are available here.

These mobile texting resources will be integrated into the department’s comprehensive tobacco control strategy to further address the burden of tobacco use across the nation.

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.

This initiative aims to collaborate with interested countries to support mHealth/text-based demonstration projects using this new text messaging resource, which are now freely available on the mHealth Alliance’s HealthUnbound.org website. 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."

A description of projects related to the HHS Text4Health Task Force recommendations can be found here.  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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