25 posts categorized

October 28, 2015

Mobile Tech as CPR Guide


It’s always nice to see technology working for the greater good and not merely motivated by profit. Some apps, like PulsePoint, aren’t working for profit at all—they’re in the business of saving lives. The non-profit app has been endorsed by a number of agencies including the American Heart Association and the Red Cross for delivering updated CPR guidelines and empowering the public to become more than bystanders at the scene of an emergency.  

Did you know that almost sixty perfect of US adults have had training to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or use an automated external defibrillator (AED)? What’s more, these trained individuals would be willing to put their skills to good use in the event of an emergency. However, it’s been estimated that only 11 percent of these people ever use their training. 

These numbers have become a viable resource in the fight against heart diseases and the struggle to protect patients who succumb to cardiac arrest. Using mobile technology, PulsePoint has modernized the CPR guidelines while finding a way to tap into this trained population. 

In the event that someone goes into cardiac arrest, the time it takes the EMS team or paramedics to arrive can greatly impact that person’s chance of resuscitation. Starting CPR quickly can double and sometimes triple the rate of survival. Now, imagine a well-trained and mobilized populace that could provide assistance during this critical window.


How the App Works 

That’s where PulsePoint comes in. Individuals trained in CPR, or the use of an AED, register with the app and are notified if they’re ever in the proximity of someone experiencing cardiac arrest. The app is also equipped to notify the trained individual where they may locate the nearest public AED. 

Once the EMS workers arrives, they’ll take over—but until then, having help there a few moments sooner could be the difference between life and death. As soon as someone calls 9-1-1 with a cardiac arrest emergency, the app alerts anyone nearby that has installed PulsePoint and is trained in CPR.

The app is already working in cities both big and small, including places like Cleveland and Fargo, North Dakota.

One of the most interesting features of this app is that it has a lot of crossover potential into other areas of public health, education, and security. Depending on how well the app does in assisting with cases of cardiac arrest, we might see variations of this software developed for other civil service functions.  

October 17, 2015

SMS Can Help Suicidal Teens Seek Help


Text messaging is an increasingly popular tool for public and essential services, forming a key part of their armories. Calling 911; reminding patients about doctor’s appointments; putting people in touch with mental health organizations - all these vital tasks can benefit from a communication technology now used more than any other.  

Now, teen suicide prevention has been added to that list.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. According to the American Association of Suicidology, close to 5,300 under-24s took their own lives in 2013. Organizations like the Samaritans and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline operate contact centers offering 24/7 support to those in need, but many teens and young adults feel reluctant to make that call. Text messaging is a communication platform they’re comfortable with, at least as a first point of contact. It’s been successfully trialled by the U.S. Department of Veterans affairs for several years, and now the aforementioned suicide help lines are beginning to roll out their own SMS messaging services.

The Samaritans’ Massachusetts branch recently began a text messaging initiative to supplement the traditional phone line. At time of writing, it’s only available between the hours of 3pm-11pm - but it’s a start. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers SMS and online assistance at a number of its 160 crisis centers, and has so far found that nearly 40% of people reaching out for help via these channels have indicated they would not feel comfortable seeking help by phone.

Crisis center volunteers are generally young themselves, ranging from 16-30; they understand the language and quirks of text message communication, including grammatical idiosyncrasies and emojis. 

Many of us feel uncomfortable using the phone for even the most basic tasks, so something as important as expressing suicidal thoughts is enough to overwhelm people who are already under a huge amount of stress. Emotions that are hard to convey in a conversation can become clearer when written down. Additionally, text messaging offers a degree of privacy that a phone call cannot. Teens and young people who struggle to find a safe, private place to call a crisis center can turn to SMS messaging as a discreet alternative. If, for instance, a kid is being repeatedly bullied on the school bus, they can communicate with a volunteer even as they face bullies. 

The hope is that these organizations and others will make SMS messaging services as easily and widely available as phone help lines.

October 14, 2015

Infographic: Breast Cancer Awareness



October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so we decided to look at the role mobile technology has to play in fighting the disease. 


September 30, 2015

SMS Is Helping Women in Kenya Track Their Pregnancies


In remote areas of east Africa, regular healthcare for expecting mothers is hard to find. Nairobi, Kenya, for example, is desperately impoverished; the infant mortality rate in this region is one of the highest in Africa, with 40 out of 1000 babies not living past infancy. This is a story Malele Ngalu, marketing director for Kenya-based Totohealth, laments on a personal level. 

Ngalu was born in Africa; his mother faced medical disadvantages that resulted in the loss of his twin brother shortly after birth. Today, Ngalu has teamed up with Felix Kimaru, founder of Totohealth, a free SMS text service to help mothers and their infant children during a five-year program.  

Kimaru has raised more than $50,000 to get his startup off the ground and implemented in several rural areas throughout east Africa. Nairobi was one of the first areas Kimaru and Ngalu tackled, sampling the service to 2,000 parents.

According to Ngalu, most parents don’t realize their infant is sick until it’s too late. 

“We asked the parents why they did not bring the children in when they saw they had a problem, and they said they didn’t know there was one,” he said.


Texting for Health

To combat this problem, Kimaru has developed content to be delivered on a weekly basis via text message. The content relates to various developmental stages (up to the age of 5) as well as women’s health. The texts also advise regular checkups and include ready access to a help desk, where trained medical doctors and nurses are available to answer questions, as well as refer parents to nearby clinics or hospitals.

Since its launch early last year, Totohealth has seen significant user growth across the continent. Word of mouth from the original 2,000 users helped double the number of parents actively using the service in nearly 30 different countries. 

Unlike most developed countries, providing this service via app is not yet possible in east Africa—the infrastructure just doesn’t exist yet. 

“Even in low income settings like Kibera, the majority of people have basic phones,” said Ngalu.  

Most basic phones have the ability to receive and send text messages, so for the time being, SMS is the best way to deliver the information as well as track patient progress.  

According to Kimaru, the parents who use the service have a 96 percent likelihood of attending every recommended checkup and appointment. These kinds of results are getting the attention of large groups like the World Health Organization. 

The other advantage to using text is that it’s relatively inexpensive, costing only about 25 cents a month per user. Right now, county governments are footing the bill for the service, hoping that government policy and social awareness will help drive further change to reform maternal programs.  

Kimaru is looking to raise another $300,000 in funding to expand Totohealth’s operations throughout other parts of Africa. 

July 15, 2015

Swedish Blood Donors Receive Thank You Text Messages for Successful Transfusions


Around the world, blood donation rates are at an all-time low. Britain has 40% fewer donors today than 10 years ago (according to the NHS). In the United States, only three out of every one-hundred people donate blood. The latest statistics from Executive Healthcare (EHM) shows that about 60% of the American populace is eligible to give blood, but only 5% of the people elect to give. This is a difficult problem because, despite the necessity to maintain a healthy blood supply, the Red Cross needs to find clever ways to convince donors to give.

In recent news, the Stockholm blood service may have come upon an excellent way to increase donations. If you donate blood in Sweden, you are sent an SMS text message each time your donated blood is used to save a life. The SMS texts go on to report on the impact of their donations, which can help to motivate donors as well. These “thank you” texts have created not only a way to make donors feel good about their altruism, it also is a subtle way to remind donors to come back for another donation at a later date. 

The program has been lauded as a success. Swedish citizens who participate have reported that they feel more appreciated once receiving the SMS text messages. Furthermore, donors often share the news with their peers via social media.

The outreach of the Stockholm blood service doesn’t stop there, though. Other text messages are sent to people who’ve donated before to remind them when they are eligible to donate again. In addition, the blood service has been using Facebook and email reminders to reach their potential donors as well. And it doesn’t hurt when they add light-hearted messages like “We won’t give up until you bleed.” Donors have shared that they appreciate these texts as well, since people often forget to donate amid their busy schedules.

Finally, on Stockholm blood service’s website, they have a chart giving a running total of how much blood of each type is left in stock. The idea is that if people know that the blood service is in need, then the people will be more likely to give.

There’s scientific proof that these techniques work. In a study by Johns Hopkins, researchers examined a Facebook initiative that allowed friends to share their organ donations in their status updates – the study observed a 21-fold increase of organ donor registrations in a single day! 

While this program currently only exists in Stockholm, it is likely that similar programs will be rolled-out throughout Sweden. Other countries, like Britain and the United States, are searching for similar techniques to get people to donate. The NHS Blood and Transplant service in the UK is looking to create some viral advertisements to increase donor turnout. Only time will tell how much these programs actually do to increase donor turnout but, in the meantime, we can all agree that SMS text messages and social media have proven to be excellent means to motivate the general public.

April 28, 2015

Disaster Relief & the Tech Community


Technology provides an incredible asset to those dealing with a natural disaster if utilized properly. Cyclone Pam recently hit the Pacific nation of Vanuatu, and while the tornado resulted in relatively few casualties, it was a stronger storm than New Orleans’ infamous Hurricane Katrina. Vanuatu is considered the world’s poorest nation, and as the rest of the world looks for ways to assist after the disaster, what can the technology industry do to help? Communication failures have made it difficult to determine the actual extent of the damage. 


Improved Communication Efforts 

While communication is imperative following any natural disaster, network overloads and satellite failures cramp the abilities of relief workers, hospital staff, and families searching for loved ones to keep in contact. Google launched crisis maps in response to such failures, a service aiding emergency preparedness and relief. The service utilizes Twitter and Facebook to help with communication during disasters should alternative methods remain unavailable.  

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti saw open-source software crowdsourcing information provided by locals, resulting in an interactive map of the crisis. A mostly urban environment, cell phones were the main forms of communication during the disaster, with those from affected communities offering eyewitness reports via SMS and social media. 

Reports were created and mapped with GPS coordinates before being sent to rescue teams thanks to information submitted from around the globe through text message, email and the web.

“I’m buried under the rubble, but I’m still alive” is an example of reports sent to the Ushahidi platform, making it possible for U.S. Marine Corps and hundreds of aid organizations to coordinate relief responses to the quake.


Contain Epidemics

Viral outbreaks are common following a natural disaster, however technology is helping to contain epidemics. Real-time analytics make it easier to provide huge amounts of data concerning previously-unknown virus trends, thus limiting death toll and dramatically reducing the spread of disease. For example, Harvard’s HealthMap called the recent worldwide Ebola virus outbreak an astounding nine days before the World Health Organization made the announcement. HealthMap used information from social media posts, including those of healthcare workers in Guinea, to create a visual outbreak report. 


More Than One

As with most things, it’s important to use more than one technique to ensure a full rather than partial picture of the issue. Accessing health clinic reports, social media posts, information from public workers, media updates, helpline data, and transactional data from pharmacies and retailers is clearly the way to go in regards to the “big picture.” One of the easiest ways to obtain such data quickly and easily? SMS.

SMS tools and campaigns are among the best options for ensuring all involved have the data they require at the right time. 


March 20, 2015

Did American Idol Help Kickstart the Text-to-Donate Fundraising Culture?


Aside from launching the music careers of several aspiring singers, American Idol can also be credited with inspiring a new way to raise money for disaster relief. 

The show’s primary voting system, which allows viewers to cast votes via their mobile devices, became a springboard for AT&T engineer Marin Croak who realized a similar use for the technology as hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast in 2005. 

Instead of transmitting fan votes via text message to an operator, Croak came up with a way to pass donations via text to participating charities. The donation would later show up as a charge on the person’s cell phone bill.

However, Croak recalls, during this time, that the use of text messaging was not nearly as popular as it is today. According to an informal poll taken in 2008 on AT&T’s website, approximately 22% of respondents reported having learned to text as a result of American Idol’s voting system—an interesting perspective attributed to the powerful reach of AI. The subsequent increase in text messaging may have also helped prepared voters to become donors.  

AT&T who originally set up American Idol’s voting system in the early 2000s, placed a patent on behalf of Croak in October 2005. And although AT&T currently maintains this patent, Croak says AT&T is not seeking to make the patent propriety—which is great news for nonprofits and disaster relief programs.

For example, in 2010 text-to-donate made its first major headline debut during the earthquake in Haiti. The relief organization collected an unprecedented $30 million via impulse disaster-relief donations— a term which describes the ease and accessibility of this technology. What’s more, these donations were collected $10 at a time. Other significant text-to-donate relief campaigns have included Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean.  

Aside from generating these donations through a streamline system, nonprofits are now able to acquire donors, not just cash donations. Opening up this intimate communication channel may be more valuable than a $10 donation. Organizations can engage donors over time, build a relationship and collect future contributions. 

Notable organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, GlobalGiving, Mercy Corps, and Saving the Children have all established similar text-to-donate programs. 

Although Croak holds dozens of patents, she is particular proud of this one, which has made an enormous difference in the way people interact with their mobile devices as well as in the world of philanthropy.


March 10, 2015

SMS Helping Sierra Leonean Become 'Citizen Reporters'


Advances in text messaging have extended to social causes, including those fighting disease and providing assistance to third-world communities. 

International development charity Christian Aid launched “SMS Voices” in January of last year, working in partnership with ENCISS, a Sierra Leone-based governance program funded by U.K. Aid and the European Union. The program is designed to help elected officials and citizens maintain an open dialogue, and was created by Radar, a U.K. communications nongovernmental organization.

SMS Voices trained 45 volunteers from Sierra Leone’s Bo and Koinadugu districts, including farmers, traders, students, and teachers, to become “citizen reporters.” Throughout 2014 they used text messaging to report issues of concern to their local councilors via anonymous micro-reports. Issues raised included the lack of teaching materials in schools, conflict among local groups, unsafe roads and bridges, clean water access, female genital mutilation, teen pregnancy, inefficient waste management, and violence against women and children.

Messages were received by nine participating elected officials, who were instructed to respond to micro-reports through text messaging and explain to reporters their plans to rectify these issues in their respective communities. Some said they would investigate, while others claimed they would bring the issues up at council meetings or alert the relevant police officer or mayor. Whatever the decision and outcome of the reports, an effective dialogue was indeed created between officials and citizens. 

Over 300 reports were sent during the 12-month period, and towards the end of the year some two-thirds concerned the Ebola crisis. Volunteers discussed how households were affected by quarantine regulations, reported regulation breaches, and shared concerns about infection.

“During the rebel war there were no mobile phones; now with Ebola, communication is possible,” remarked Martin M B Goba, deputy chairman of the Bo District Council. “During my time in quarantine, I was able to communicate with my ward development committee with an immediate response.” Goba lost several family members to the disease.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s helping me to improve on my job and to know the problems in my community, so that I can find solutions to them,” he added. “It has improved my interaction with civil society and shown me how to act immediately and promptly to community concerns.” 

The project has demonstrated the possibility of running low-cost, innovative programs in low-resource environments, such as within Sierra Leone, where less than 10 percent of the population have access to electricity, and a mere 2 percent use the Internet. 

“I have seen change,” remarks volunteer Evelyn Turay. “I have now seen council officials in the community raising awareness on issues around teenage pregnancy and early sexual activities [of young people] which I have been reporting on.” 

As the program progresses, it’s increasingly obvious that text messaging provides a powerful tool for helping third-world communities stay engaged and empowered.


December 02, 2014

Crank Up Your Marketing Efforts for Christmas


As the holiday shopping season draws near, it’s important to “amp up” marketing efforts. Let’s check out a few holiday promotional tactics small businesses can implement and subsequently increase brand recognition while ensuring customer loyalty.


Email Marketing

A straightforward option, email assorted blasts to opted-in customers about deals, sales and other promotions, and create holiday messages discussing new promo codes or other exclusive, limited-time offers. Existing customer discounts and free gift cards with purchase are generally the most successful email blast options, as they build brand loyalty and referrals in addition to increasing sales. Find an appealing holiday template, add the right information, and go from there.


Content Marketing

Whatever you “put out there” for your customers should engage them--don’t simply go for the boring sales pitch. Place attention-grabbing content on social media channels, blogs, press releases, articles, videos...think funny holiday clips, last-minute tips, guides on using your products, fun and helpful newsletters, and more. Information on day-before-Christmas ordering is another great content marketing method.


Social Media

Social media is a viable option for promoting your brand and products. Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook all provide real-time access to customers and their online communities, with social media marketing even more essential during the holiday season. Upload holiday-themed images to your accounts, such as product shots in holiday settings or stores/offices decorated for the season. Provide regular updates on holiday promotions, sales, return policies and shipping cut-off dates, but don’t forget to add fun seasonal facts and similar information as well. Promoting gift card opportunities with links back to official websites is another option.


SMS Marketing

Text message marketing is becoming more and more prevalent, as it provides an easy, cost-effective method for reaching the vast majority of your customers instantly. Send holiday promo codes to opted-in customers, as well as exclusive holiday coupons and sales alerts. Advertise Christmas-themed discounts and specials to potential customers who opt-in, and enjoy a larger database you can utilize all year long.


Open House 

Another excellent Christmastime marketing idea is to host an open house at your place of business if applicable. Provide cookies and warm cider and or mulled wine, as well as free gift-wrapping for shoppers. Raffles, discounts and other special promos also work when advertising an open house, as do cross-promotional efforts, such as offering handmade chocolates from the confectionary across the street. If your business caters to children, have a friend or co-worker dress up as Santa and hand out candy canes or Christmas-themed coloring books while taking free photos with customers and their little ones.

These are just some of many marketing options to try this holiday season. Good luck, and Happy Holidays. 

November 04, 2014

How Spamming is Helping Fight Ebola


Spamming is aiding the fight against Ebola.

Operators of text messaging system Tera, which provides advice and help to people fighting Ebola in the Sierra Leone region, are looking to extend the service to seven other African nations—Mali, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Burkina Faso. Ebola kills victims via dehydration and multiple organ failure, and more than 4,000 West Africans have perished from the disease.

The network allows Red Cross and Red Crescent charities to “send SMS messages to every switched-on handset in a specific area by drawing its shape on a computer-generated map.” Automatic, appropriate replies to incoming texts are also featured. Both charities aim for expansion completion over the next nine months, but cooperation of local mobile authorities and networks is needed.

"It's been doing an excellent job in Sierra Leone, sending out in the region of 2 million messages per month, helping the communities there to prepare themselves, try to avoid getting infected, and then if they do, to know what to do about it," notes Robin Burton from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Unlike TV and radio, if we send them a text message it's retained on the phone."

The trick is quelling each nation’s concerns or fears about joining the network.

"The thing operators might have a problem with is that they are basically being asked to spam millions of their customers, and people often object to that," says Ken Banks, an SMS expert who advises the UK's Department for International Development. "When people in Haiti received messages asking them to donate blood [after the 2010 earthquake] that were blasted out willy-nilly some were not in a position to do so, and they found it annoying.”

However, Banks notes operators can’t really argue this one, as no one wants to be accused of blocking potentially life-saving messages during an epidemic. He adds that the significance of the Red Cross as an organization will also fuel the proverbial fire. The IFRC also wants Tera to appear as "network friendly" as possible, and allow individual subscribers to opt out and operators to apply exclusion lists.

The network is specifically designed to send texts to powered-up handsets. This avoids build-up of millions of undelivered messages, and therefore potential network strain. Staggered texts are yet another way the network is preventing overload, and the system is location-sensitive, so messages are sent to affected areas only.

An inexpensive system to operate, Tera may be utilized during natural disasters and for relief effort feedback, potentially emerging as one of the key factors in helping to limit the damage from both natural and human-spread calamities.