NACCHO’s Investments in Mobile Health Technology Help Local Health Departments Improve Preparedness Efforts

By Sara Rubin, MPH, MA, Senior Program Analyst, Pandemic and Catastrophic Preparedness, NACCHO and Alyson Jordan, MPA, Communications Specialist, Public Health Preparedness, NACCHO

As mobile technology becomes an integrated component in the delivery of healthcare and in the promotion of public health practices, local health departments (LHDs) should seek opportunities to incorporate such technology into their community preparedness efforts. Prior emergencies have shown that in disaster situations, mobile technologies and social media can help provide information to LHDs about affected populations and neighborhoods, occasionally faster than traditional methods of information collection[1]. LHDs across the United States have explored innovative ways to reach their residents, such as through the development of mobile applications for food safety and preparedness; the implementation of texting programs to remind residents when their benefits are ready to expire; and the creation of their own mobile websites to ensure that smartphone users can access important information. While LHDs still have much to learn and explore in this new and emerging area, NACCHO’s research indicates that LHDs can use mobile technology to improve the effectiveness of their work, and NACCHO offers several tools to help LHDs to begin implementing mobile technology.

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Over the past year, NACCHO has partnered with the UPMC Center for Health Security to conduct research and identify organizational factors that LHD staff perceive as influential in hindering or enabling their ability to use social media and mobile technologies for preparedness. Although the American public’s use of such technologies has consistently grown in recent years, only a fraction of LHDs have adopted and used them effectively. UPMC and NACCHO will release their final study report in January 2014. In light of this study’s findings from 65 interviews with LHD staff (n=65) and analysis of existing relevant research, the project team recommends several actions for local health practitioners and policymakers at all levels. Furthermore, the report also profiles four health departments and their use of technology as case studies of existing practices. NACCHO and UPMC highlighted some findings from the report through a poster presentation at the recent mHealth Summit (Dec. 8-11, 2013). Stay tuned for an additional blog post from the UPMC and NACCHO research team in January to share their report and to learn how your LHD can take actionable steps to use mobile technology.

In addition to NACCHO’s research on LHD use of mobile technology, several tools and resources are available for LHDs seeking more information about adopting and implementing mobile technologies for preparedness. The issue brief, “Local Health Departments and mHealth,” exemplifies how LHDs have used mobile applications and text messaging for emergency situations. NACCHO’s policy statement on the use of mobile technology provides recommendations for removing barriers that prevent the adoption of mobile technology at LHDs.

In addition to offering helpful tools, resources, and technical assistance to LHDs using mobile technology, NACCHO is also actively involved in the development of mobile technology. NACCHO is excited to announce the development of a new web and mobile-based system for the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) in conjunction with Rallyware, a start-up company that has created online platforms to engage decentralized networks similar to the MRC. The new platform, scheduled to launch in Summer 2014, will help MRC unit leaders and volunteers to manage logistics and tracking of events and trainings via their smartphones and a new online system and connect with others throughout the 200,000 strong MRC network. Since MRC volunteers are a vital partner in assisting LHDs in protecting the health and safety of communities across America, the new platform will help enhance the partnership between LHDs and MRC units, simplify the sharing of best practices and critical knowledge, and strengthen the MRC and nationwide public health partnership. NACCHO is also currently partnering with the CDC, Voxiva (the creators of Text4Baby), and other stakeholders in the development of a text messaging program to promote medication adherence during pandemics.These initiatives are just a few of the many tools NACCHO is working on to strengthen the important work of LHDs through emerging technologies.

Since mobile technologies offer additional means of health education and promotion, NACCHO will continue to explore how LHDs can best use new technologies to reach the people they serve. View the resources below to learn more about the uses of mobile technology locally.

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[1] Merchant, R. M, Elmer, S., & Lurie, N. (2011). Integrating Social Media into Emergency-Preparedness Efforts. New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1103591

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