Health With a Capital H
Seven Guidelines to Great Public Health Mobile Messaging
May 21, 2012
Contributed by Matt Grzeskiewicz, Digital Strategist
As of February of this year, almost half the people in the United States owned smartphones. If a health professional wants to use mobile technology to reach people, what are the steps? How can mobile health messaging foster changes in behavior?
In “Motivating Change with Mobile: Seven Guidelines,” clinical psychologist and researcher Margaret E. Morris discusses how health professionals can use smartphones and mobile apps to encourage healthy behaviors now and in the future. The following are Morris’ seven guidelines for the successful use of mobile messaging:
Remind people of their goals.
People make healthy lifestyle change because of something they value, such as work, family, hobbies, or relationships. Successful mobile health messaging links healthful behaviors to these values. Remind people why they quit smoking with positive messages such as, “You decided to quit because it will help you manage your blood pressure and spend more time with your grandchildren.”
Become a personal "health coach."
An effective mobile health app creates a “therapist/patient” bond between the user and the health communicator by way of the mobile device. The best call-to-action messages use communal words such as, “Let’s figure out what’s causing your weight gain,” and avoid language like, “You’re gaining weight. Answer this survey to find out why.”
Build healthful habits using social influence.
If possible, capitalize on the user’s personal data to reference a specific peer group, and supply messages that speak to desirable behavior. For example, “You exercised once last week. Eighty percent of women your age exercise five times per week.” This works better than, “You exercised once last week. Sedentary women your age have 10 times the risk of diabetes.”
Show people what they could lose.
Long-term health investments are often undervalued when compared to instant gratification. Show the problems that can arise from “one-time” health lapses, and mention the possible long-term effects. For instance, “Don’t jeopardize your progress. High salt intake can lead to weight gain, difficulty breathing, and loss of mobility.”
Put the message where it really counts.
Provide a reminder as close to the time and place of the target activity as possible. Statements like, “Consider these alternatives to fast food,” or “Chop extra vegetables for lunch tomorrow!” can guide people at the moment of meal choice or preparation.
Raise emotional awareness.
Emotions play a strong role in motivation. For instance, a person who is feeling stressed may want to ignore a personal nutrition goal and grab comfort food instead. A mobile campaign can check in on the user’s mood and help prevent potential behavior lapses.
Users may stray from their goals because of lack of planning. Instead of addressing the lapse in a negative way, reframe the challenge with sensible solutions for the future. “Next time, plan ahead to pack a healthy lunch!”
Every day, mobile apps and smartphones are more integrated in our lives. If health professionals can use these simple steps to strategize mobile health messaging campaigns, they can ride the wave of new technology to help people live healthier, happier lives.
For examples of the work we’ve done using mobile technology, see the My Dietary Supplements mobile app and the NIDA mobile website. And if you haven’t heard of it by now, check out the Text4Baby movement. How are you thinking about going mobile? Which of these guidelines would help bolster your message?