Text4Baby, the high profile free SMS-based service for new and expectant mothers, is heading to Russia this fall. Voxiva and Johnson & Johnson have teamed up to support the service in Russia, where the content of the text messages will be shaped by the Kulakov Center for Obstetrics, Gynecology and Perinatology of the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development, or MOHSD.
While a press release announcing Text4Baby Russia hit the wires today, the service was announced last month during US Vice President Joe Biden’s wife’s visit to Moscow’s Kulakov Center. Dr. Jill Biden even blogged about it in the White House blog:
“The Text4Baby Russia service is scheduled to start sending messages to moms later this year,” Dr. Biden wrote. “As a mother and a grandmother – I congratulate all of those working on maternal health issues, and look forward to celebrating the growth of the Text4Baby program.”
In the year since it launched in the US Text4Baby has enrolled some 135,000 157,000 people. The service’s most impressive feat, in my opinion, was its ability to gather together the more than 300 500 outreach partners that included national, state, business, academic, nonprofit and other groups to promote the service. (Update: Voxiva sent updated numbers for subscribers and partners — the State Department release apparently had dated numbers.)
But does Text4Baby work?
Last year HHS CTO Todd Park announced plans to have Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) evaluate the efficacy of Text4Baby, but in the same breath he announced the creation of a Text4Health initiative at HHS to create new programs around other health topics like obesity, smoking cessation and child health issues.
The move drew some criticism.
Assuming all of Text4Baby’s 135,000 subscribers are actually pregnant or new mothers that means 135,000 women out of the 6 million pregnancies last year benefited from Text4Baby, or about 2.3 percent. That’s the count that Dr Joel Selanikio, the co-founder of another mobile health services provider, DataDyne, came to in a blog post he wrote last month.
“So in the end, after millions of dollars, use of a professional ad agency, White House promotion, and one year they’ve reached about 2 percent of the 6 million pregnant women in the US,” Selanikio wrote. “Two percent? If that is success, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.”
Selanikio was critical of Text4Baby from the get-go: “For the money they’ve spent for this system (which they haven’t revealed) they could have built a system that would let anyone, with any health or other messages to send, do it without any intermediaries and without any meetings and without hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. As easily and cheaply as Facebook. Or Google Docs,” Selanikio wrote after the service launched.
I’m curious to dig into HRSA’s evaluation of the program when it comes out. How should we be evaluating mobile health services? Is it as obvious to you as it appears to be to Selanikio that Text4Baby is a failure?