Could SMS revolutionize healthcare?

By: Shanna Freeman

These days, all sorts of people text -- not just teenagers.
These days, all sorts of people text -- not just teenagers.

I only got a smartphone last year, so I still feel behind in terms of figuring out all that it can do. There's a dizzying array of apps -- that's applications if you're even more "behind" than I was --- available, and some of them are incredibly useful. You can manage your finances or track your fitness, for example.

But many people in the healthcare industry are looking at an older technology that all cell-phone users have: SMS. SMS stands for short message service, and it's basically another way of saying text messaging. For all of those apps, plenty of us still enjoy using our phones to text back and forth. Some organizations take advantage of SMS by using texts to do things like remind you to vote for a specific candidate or tell you about an upcoming sale. So why use SMS for healthcare when there are apps available? Because although many of us have smartphones, not everybody does. And even if you do, some people don't want to bother having to learn how to use an app. They aren't always free, and the free ones are of varying quality. Also, not all apps are available for every type of cell phone or operating system.


But everybody with a cell phone can text -- and more than 70 percent of cell-phone users do. That makes it a potentially revolutionary tool for healthcare. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formed the Text4Health Task Force with the goal of coming up with new ways to share health information via text message. The hope is that communities that are traditionally underserved by medical professionals, such as rural populations, low-income areas or areas with large minority populations, can be reached in a whole new way. Next up, we'll look at just a few of the ways that SMS can revolutionize healthcare.