Background:Mobile data traffic is expected to increase 61% annually for the next 3 years, servicing nearly 5 billion mobile users and 10 billion devices by 2018. Health care providers are at the forefront. More than 85% of physicians use smartphones and tablets in their medical practice, and more than half use apps in clinical practice. Consumers are adopting mobile technology—98% of American adults report owning a cell phone, 32% own an e-reader, and 42% own a tablet. Mobile is narrowing the digital divide, as 63% of U.S. adults access the Internet via mobile phone, and 31% of cell phone owners and 52% of smartphone users access health or medical information from their devices. To reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on communities, SAMHSA is bringing behavioral health resources to the mobile information market across scalable platforms.
Program background:Developing mobile apps allows SAMHSA to improve usability of content and reach audiences looking for behavioral health information. Topics at the center of SAMHSA’s communications strategy are disaster response, bullying prevention, and suicide prevention. SAMHSA focused on how mobile technology could augment existing content and provide three unique populations with formats and features to meet their needs. SAMHSA leveraged the right platforms for its target audiences, and identified features through formative research and best practices:
- Disaster App includes a treatment facility locator for disaster responders and offers the ability to preload content in case of limited Internet connectivity.
- KnowBullying features conversation prompts, shareable on social media, for parents and their children.
- Suicide Safe provides educational tools and medical coding guidance for providers screening patients for suicidal ideation.
Evaluation Methods and Results:A positive user experience is critical to adopting any communications product; therefore, SAMHSA conducted usability testing with target audiences to assess app features and navigation. Input from stakeholders helped refine app functionalities. In addition, SAMHSA is performing app evaluations to measure adoption and usage. Assessments include marketing results, web analytics, user behavior analyses, and customer satisfaction surveys. As of April 2015, SAMHSA had more than 40,000 app downloads, with a potential ROI of more than $200,000.
Conclusions:Mobile technology is the future of content dissemination. It’s the “go-to” channel for promoting health messages. A strategic public health communications plan leverages the value of this ubiquitous technology and considers the demographics of their target audiences to determine if an app is the right communications vehicle. Formative research (e.g., conducting key informant interviews and developing use case scenarios) will help lay the foundation for a successful, usable app.
Implications for research and/or practice:SAMHSA’s mobile app development process offers lessons learned to advise development of future apps for public health and to inform best practices for communications products. SAMHSA’s suite of apps helps reach existing and new audiences with information previously reserved for hard-copy or broadband distribution. Cost savings include reduced printing and shipping, and apps create economies of scale to reduce investment required for subsequent apps. Use of mobile apps is now a mainstream behavior. Public health messages must be at the ready.