‘Text4Baby’ message service connects new moms to health help

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Being a new mom has plenty of challenges, not least of which are sleep deprivation, feeding and changing your child, and allowing your body to heal after delivery. But a new technological partnership between the University of Massachusetts Medical School and MassHealth is attempting to make it easier for new moms to get help via text message.

The partnership, which launched in September of last year, builds on a pre-existing tool, Text4Baby, a free text messaging service that has helped pregnant women and new mothers manage the health of their infants since 2010. Working alongside Text4Baby, the team from UMass and MassHealth decided to customize the text messages so they could gather more data about their participants and improve their delivery of postpartum care.

Over 1,600 women have signed up for the service since it launched last year, and now receive about three text messages a week, said Rossana Valencia-Hoang, a project director at UMass.

“The messages cover a range of topics: prenatal care, appointment reminders, how to avoid substance abuse, child care, injury prevention, and safe sleep,” she said, and explained that it’s important to engage new mothers shortly after they deliver, as many low-income women who skip their postnatal doctors appointments may not visit a doctor until they get pregnant again. “It’s really an opportunity to screen the mom for depression, and engage the mom and continue their care.”

The texts offer moms tips on how to install car seats, details on immunizations, and ask questions that help monitor mental health. They also serve as appointment reminders, Valencia-Hoang said, and are responsive, providing information on transportation options, for example, if a woman texts back that that she skipped an appointment because she couldn’t get a ride or afford the cost of a cab.

“It was a national program that we could latch onto and customize,” said Robin Callahan, the deputy Medicaid director of MassHealth. “And the beauty of it is that it taps into technology that people actually have and use in the course of their ordinary life.”

Callahan and Valencia-Hoang said that the data that they’re able to glean from the participating members will help them identify areas where they can provide better services. Callahan says that the program, was financed with a portion of a $1.8 million Adult Medicaid Quality Grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, is one that she hopes they can replicate with other patients.

“There are a lot of potential applications for people with chronic diseases or folks who need more intensive interactions or access to care,” she said.

Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.
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