Helping Patients to get their Voices Heard

SK 2012Guest blog post by Siobahn Kinney, Program Coordinator, Social Media, for Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, and a speaker at this year’s NACHC Policy & Issues Forum

With social media already a part of our marketing plan here at the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, we began looking for new ways to reach out to patients, advocates, health center staff and all others impacted by community health centers in our state. An opportunity arose when we applied for the Health Justice CT Challenge, a $10,000 grant awarded to an organization that could come up with an innovative way to reduce health disparities in Connecticut. While we didn’t win the challenge, our proposal was picked up by the CT Health Foundation, and Txt 2B Heard was born.

Txt 2B Heard is the first campaign of its kind in Connecticut. Txt 2B Heard is a text txt2bheardmessaging campaign that prompts health care consumers to answer the question: “What do you want from your health care?” Consumers text, mail, submit and tweet their ideas about what would make their health care work better for them and for their communities. We will gather all of these responses into a final report which will be shared with policymakers and health care leadership. Our ultimate goal is that this input will help to inform health care reform in Connecticut.

Embarking on a text messaging campaign is a new step for us, but the data show text messaging is an effective tool for reaching out to vulnerable populations. The populations most often served at community health centers, such as racial and ethnic minorities, lower income groups, and the uninsured and underinsured use text messaging more often than others (Source: Pew Internet, 2011). Text messaging campaigns are also becoming increasingly popular in health care, including CHCs. Many CHCs and related organizations use text messaging for appointment reminders (such as Fair Haven Community Health Center in New Haven, CT), to encourage patient self-management (such as Lynn Community Health Center in Lynn, MA) and to seek and connect with health center advocates (such as NACHC’s Mobile Advocacy Campaign).

Our goal was not only to implement an innovative campaign, but to also give patients a stronger, louder voice in their health care. Unfortunately, low-income individuals are not always able to provide input to policymakers because of competing demands on their time and other barriers. Yet, many of the policy decisions impact them even more than others who are able to provide input. Txt 2B Heard will provide an easy way for their opinions to be shared with policymakers.

txt2bheard_bannerBy connecting with patients where they already are—on their phones—we expand our reach beyond the more traditional venues. Of course, we have also included traditional tools as a means of reaching out to patients, including print materials and website forms. Social media is also a big part of our strategy—again, as a way to reach as many patients as possible. And we were surprised to find that text messaging is not only a powerful tool, but also affordable and time-efficient. It doesn’t take a huge amount of money or time to manage a text messaging campaign, especially with online dashboards and tools that allow you to manage a campaign in one comprehensive place.

So far uptake has been gradually building, and we’re seeing quite a wide range of responses! Patients are already reporting wanting faster appointments, more affordable care and a better insurance system. We expect to see even greater variety in responses as Txt 2B Heard continues.

You can learn more about Txt 2B Heard—and see the responses so far – by going to www.txt2bheard.org. To participate and let us know what you want from your care, text keyword TXT2BHEARD along with your comments to 24587. We look forward to hearing from you!

–Siobahn Kinney

Interested in Txt 2B Heard and how health centers can utilize text messaging? Hear Siobahn live at NACHC’s 2013 Policy & Issues Forum in D.C. — she will be presenting during a session titled “Growing Your Health Center’s Grassroots Advocacy Program” on Friday, March 22, at 3:30pm

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