I wrote and tested content for a text message outreach campaign for the Kansas City, MO Health Department during my Code for America fellowship. I also created resources to train staff to run it.

Outreach program

Paper prototypes for content testing with users.

For busy parents who don’t have a primary care provider, keeping on top of immunizations can be hard. We wanted to meet people where they were, using technology they were comfortable with. We decided to implement an outreach campaign to send text message reminders and alerts.

First came research. I intercepted parents in the health department lobby and at a nearby preschool. I interviewed them about their routines, their relationship with the health department, and their usage of text messages.

I used that research to write a variety of text messages. The challenge was to craft clear, HIPAA compliant messages that fit the size constraints of a text message. I then tested the message content with parents to make sure the content made sense to recipients.

Using the text messages I wrote, we ran a number of pilot programs. We sent over 10,000 text messages. The promising results convinced us that the Health Department should be sending regular vaccine reminders by text message.

“[The messages] remind me to go early rather than leaving it to the last minute like I did last year.” - A KCHD client

Staff training

To conduct our text message campaigns, we used two off the shelf products, Twilio and TextIt. Because the Health Department has limited technical resources, it was important to ensure a non-technical person could take over the outreach program. To that end, we decided to document the entire process. We also wanted to create a resource that would be helpful to wider public health community.

I put together a website, and with my team, wrote an extensive tutorial. The website includes instructions on implementation, as well as advice on best practices. We hope it will be a resource not only for the Kansas City Health Department, but also other public health organizations.

Homepage of Text Messaging for Public Health tutorial