Text4Baby, a free mHealth service that "provides timely and expert health information through SMS text messages to pregnant women and new moms through their babies' first year," has officially launched today, White House Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra announced during a plenary session at the National Health IT Summit in Washington, D.C.
"I am very proud to announce that the US government is formally announcing the launch of Text4Baby, [a free health service] designed to take advantage of the capabilities of cell phones, which have 90 percent penetration in the US. Starting today, women can text the word "BABY" or in spanish "BEBE" to 511411 and be automatically enrolled at no charge. The service provides at least three free text messages each week and [lasts during and shortly after the pregnancy]. The messages explain some of the experiences they may be going through and suggests ways for them to" [keep themselves and their baby healthy], Chopra said.
One of the earliest adopters of Text4Baby was a physician working in a small practice in Virginia who wanted to offer the service to her patients. Every pregnant woman (less than 34 weeks pregnant) who visits the doctor's office is invited to sign up for Text4Baby free of charge, regardless of insurance or financial status, Chopra said. During the first month 80 patients subscribed to the service from this particular physician's office. Chopra reported that soon after offering Text4Baby, a teenage woman visited the doctor's office for a follow-up visit and admitted that she wasn't planning on coming to the visit, but her Text4Baby reminder convinced her and reminded her that she should.
Text4Baby aims to address the U.S. infant mortality public health crisis: More than 500,000 babies are born prematurely every year in the U.S., and an estimated 28,000 children die before their first birthday, according to the Text4Baby press release.
"Last night Dr. Drew talked about [Text4Baby] on his TV show on MTV, called 'Teen Mom.' Following the program some 1,200 people signed up," Chopra told the audience in DC. "This morning I heard that 3,400 have signed up," he said.
Text4Baby's launch is remarkable for a number of reasons, including its impressive list of collaborators: National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), Voxiva, MTV Networks, CTIA, Grey Healthcare Group (a WPP company), Johnson & Johnson, WellPoint, Pfizer, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, HHS, Department of Defense Military Health System, BabyCenter, Danya International, Syniverse Technologies, Keynote Systems and The George Washington University. Fifteen U.S. carriers have agreed to carry the program's text messages at no cost for two full years. The participating carriers are: Alltel, Assurance Wireless, AT&T, Boost Mobile, Cellular South, Cellcom, Centennial Cellular, Cincinnati Bell, Metro PCS, N-Telos, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless and Virgin Mobile USA.
"I specifically want to thank Paul Meyer from Voxiva... for organizing and pulling together the different groups and resources for Text4Baby. Tax dollars did not participate [in the funding of Text4Baby]," Chopra said. "It would have taken three years to procure the funding," he joked.
Voxiva founder Paul Meyer told MobiHealthNews following Chopra's presentation that General Mills has agreed to promote Text4Baby on the back of some of its cereal boxes, including Cheerios, in the coming months. Meyer also noted that the list of collaborators has grown to well over 100 partners at the state and local level, too. Some state health departments will being inserting Text4Baby promotional materials and invitations in the birth certificates they mail out to new mothers.
For many state health departments, payers groups and government organizations, Text4Baby is a way to try out mobile health and see if it works, Meyer said.
"From Voxiva's perspective: Text4Baby will hopefully open up people's eyes and help them realize that we can do this for others health-related conditions like asthma, diabetes and so on. What we have really done with Text4Baby is created a massive distribution network for mHealth services. Take a look at our list of partners -- most of them are not wholly focused on pregnancy issues. When people ask us: If we can do this for pregnancy, can we do this for 'XYZ'? Our answer is: Yes, we can."
Text4Baby could become one of the biggest mHealth launches ever, according to Meyer. After reviewing the long list of partners, (which is growing virally now without a lot of input from Voxiva, Meyer said), it's hard to disagree.
MobiHealthNews has written a number of stories about Text4Baby over the past year:
Voxiva, White House to launch Text4Baby
White House: We are excited about mHealth
Text4Baby to launch soon?
White House hints at Text4Baby launch for next week
Text4Baby launch called "high profile" demo of mHealth
Text4Baby's launch now set for February
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