For many, the focus on Health IT and EHRs is on physician’s offices and hospitals, but there are major implications for Health IT in community efforts to improve population health. One new program is utilizing mobile technology to promote maternal and child health.

The program,Text4baby, was announced last week by federal chief technology officer and associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Aneesh Chopra. Text4baby is a free service supported by major wireless carriers, which sends medical information weekly via SMS messages to subscribers. The text messages are designed to promote mother and child health through the baby’s first year. The public-private partnership of government, business and non-profit entities includes support from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Alltel, Boost Mobile, Metro PCS, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile USA, and others. National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, Voxiva, the CTIA – The Wireless Foundation, The Grey Healthcare Group, and Johnson & Johnson are also major partners in this effort.

To receive the public health text messages, an expectant mother only needs to text “baby,” or “bebe” in Spanish, to 511411. Once subscribed, the mothers will receive three text messages each week at no charge. The text messages will be tailored to follow the baby’s due date or data of birth and focus on a variety of topics, including:

  • Birth defects prevention,
  • Immunization,
  • Nutrition,
  • Seasonal flu,
  • Mental health,
  • Oral health, and
  • Safe sleep.

The messages will also help mothers connect to prenatal and infant care services and other resources. This is a perfect example of how technology and public-private partnerships can create very targeted and tailored public health efforts. Text4baby is the first free nationwide mobile health service in the United States, and its timing is appropriate; for the first time since the 1950s infant mortality rate is on the rise.

The hope is that this program will reach women who may lack prenatal care and education. Better informed mothers can make healthier choices for themselves and their babies.