Andre BlackmanThis month, Disruptive Women welcomes Andre Blackman, Health Communications Analyst at RTI International, a non profit research organization, as our July Man of the Month.

Andre Blackman has an extensive background associated with science, technology and public health, conducting research in institutions such as the Naval Research Lab, NASA and WESTAT. This merging of technology and health has proved helpful in his current work in Health Communications.

Andre is very passionate about the role of new media, mobile technology and other emerging technologies as it relates to health communications and public health in general. You can find his thoughts on the intersections of health and technology through his blog, Pulse + Signal and via Twitter.

The past few years have seen a significant increase in the use of emerging technologies to improve public health all around the world. From grassroots initiatives empowering citizens in low-resource areas to making sure consumers get the healthcare they need – changes are happening for the better. This article will aim to look at a specific area of the ‘citizen empowerment’ – the application of SMS (Short Messaging Service – or texting) and mobile phones in public health.

With the onset of social tools such as social networking sites (Facebook, Myspace, etc.) and real time information hubs such as Twitter, we are exposed to numerous ways to stay connected to each other. Our mobile devices are equipped with applications that allow us to do a myriad of things – many of which focus on entertainment and productivity. Another very important part of our lives is maintaining good health and the mobile phone is making strides in that area. mHealth is the term that has been coined to describe the interaction of mobile technology with the improvement of health.

mHealth is exploding onto the scene as the next big technology boon for public health – the main reasons this is true are twofold: ease of implementation and relative low cost of operation/maintenance. This is especially true in the developing world and in low-resource areas where technology options are relatively sparse. The use of SMS has become a tremendously powerful way for health clinics in Africa to communicate with their community health workers who are traveling to villages to tend to patients. Imagine the ability to significantly reduce fuel consumption and get real time data on medical adherence in a world where it make take several weeks to get this information.

All of that from a technology that for many of us in the developed world may take for granted.

A few months ago I presented this information at the North Carolina Division of Public Health – here is the presentation that touches on the basics of mobile technology and how it can be applied to the public health landscape. It is by no means comprehensive but gives a good idea of where things are and thoughts on where things can go in the near future.

Private sector organizations such as Voxiva have been taking the lead on mobile initiatives, especially in health. Nonprofit organizations and local health departments have also been dipping their toes into the use of SMS technologies to get health information out to residents. The government has also become a supporter of mHealth initiatives and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to innovate in this area. Several weeks ago, I wrote about a hypothetical situation in which public health could benefit from a mobile application called The Extraordinaries, which uses the free time of consumers to volunteer their time for good.

From a recent article on mobile communications in health via Mobileactive.org:
“Mobile provides a fantastic channel for communication,” said Erin Edgerton, senior social media strategist at the CDC. “It’s always on, always with you and provides personal access to information.”

I heartily encourage you to begin exploring this venue of health communications and figure out how you or your organization can integrate strategy with mobile technology.

Additional Articles/Resources:

Mobile Active – a great starting point for learning about using mobile technology for social impact. Contact them with any questions

PopTech – Can Your Cell Phone Change Lives? My article on mHealth

Texting4Health – conference and newly published book

ISIS initiative – sexual health information/STD prevention through SMS technology

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