In my day job, I specialize in using technologies like web, mobile, and social to engage with consumers. The target consumer in question is almost always mom, and the topic that I am trying to engage her with is primarily health related. Mobile technologies are key to my job because there is 90% US adult adoption of mobile phones (with 58% of those users having a smartphone).
Mobile Technology and the Poor
Next week I will actually be flying to Hawaii to speak at the Medicine 2.0 conference. My session is entitled Bridging the Digital Health Divide. My main motivation for having written the abstract in the first place was to help clarify confusion around the use of consumer technologies, such as mobile and social, by low income individuals. As I’ve mentioned already on this site, I myself grew up homeless, so I know quite a bit on the topic. Many make an assumption that those with low income or low education levels would not have mobile technology to use in the first place. Here are two things you should consider if you are among those with this belief:
- Often times, due to budgetary restrictions, a mobile phone is typically the only technology investment that someone with low-income can afford. There are also government assistance programs available to help subsidize the cost of mobile technology since law makers have long understood the value of having a mobile phone as a lifeline. This is particularly true in the realm of healthcare. As such, 80% of low-income consumers now own a mobile device.
- One of the reasons apps have been, thus far, primarily used by those with higher incomes is because those with higher incomes built them with their own life problems in mind. This is one of the reasons why colleges and companies are clamoring for female developers. It can be a challenge for a male developer to consider the life experience of the typical female consumer, and the daily problems she faces, without having those life experiences themselves. Now there are folks like me entering into the technology landscape that understand what it feels like to try to make ends meet, and we are here to develop mobile solutions that matter for those that earn a low monthly income.
Along those lines, I would like to present to you my three favorite apps that engage low-income moms wanting to live their most healthful lives.
Easy Food Stamps
Although only available in New York state currently, Easy Food Stamps is a mobile-friendly website that low-income moms can use to apply for SNAP (aka: food stamps). Since this is technically a website, it cuts out the problem of lower smartphone adoption. The site uses an avatar, in the form of a “digital social worker”, to navigate the user through the application process. The site also prepares the applicant for the in-person SNAP interview. Even more awesome, the user can take pictures with their phone, and the site faxes the necessary documents to SNAP on the user’s behalf. I’m looking forward to wider adoption of this technology in other states.
The QuickWIC app, unlike Easy Food Stamps, is for moms that are already a part of the SNAP program. The app helps women maximize the benefits of the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutrition program. The developers have found that the WIC program can be frustrating for moms since it basically gives you access to a debit card and a brochure and pretty much just says, “good luck” after that. One major issue is that WIC only offers pre-approvals for very specific brands. If a mom is not careful, then she will unknowingly end up at the cash register for items that are not WIC approved, which can be embarrassing. Features of QuickWIC include:
- Barcode scanner that a mother can use to ensure an item is WIC approved before putting it in her cart
- Nutrition education resources
- Account balane of where a mom stands with their benefit allowance
- Soon to be added chat feature that connects mom to her local WIC agency so that she can ask questions
Another way to combat the issue of lower smartphone adoption are through texting programs. There are already some great players in this space for diabetes management, weight management, and smoking cessation. My favorite for women is Text4baby. This is a free mobile health service provided by National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition that is aimed at promoting pre-natal and child health through text messaging. Women who text BABY (BEBE en Español) to 511411 receive three free text messages per week. These text messages are timed to either due date or a baby’s birth date and continue through pregnancy and up until the baby’s first birthday. The messages address topics like labor signs, prenatal care, developmental milestones, immunizations, nutrition, birth defect prevention, safe sleep, and more. Text4baby has reached over half a million moms since its launch in 2010.