Most health care providers prefer receiving public health alerts and advisories by e-mail rather than text message, according to a new study by a research center at the University of Washington School of Public Health. Younger providers, however, were more likely to prefer texts, and researchers said increased exposure to and comfort with mobile technology might result in greater preference for text messages, also known as short message service, or SMS.
The research was conducted by the Northwest Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center and published in Public Health Reports. About 700 health-care providers were surveyed over one year as part of a larger study on emergency alert preferences in the Pacific Northwest. Overall, e-mail was the preferred mode of message delivery for public health alerts (71 percent), followed by text message (18.9 percent), then fax (10.1 percent). An even larger number (82.9 percent) of providers preferred e-mail for public health advisories, followed by fax (9.5 percent) and text message (7.6 percent).
“Understanding the preferences of providers for receiving alerts and advisories may improve the effectiveness of vital public health communications systems and, in turn, may enhance disease surveillance, aid in early detection, and improve case finding and situational awareness for public health emergencies,” the authors wrote.
A related study published in Public Health Reports sought to understand how employees at Public Health-Seattle & King County, the largest public health agency in the Seattle area, would respond to and benefit from a voluntary, SMS program during emergencies. The research was a collaboration between the agency and the Northwest Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center.
More than 22 percent of the agency’s 1,500-plus employees signed up for the program in December 2011. The next month, a winter storm caused many homes and businesses to lose power while many roads were icy and not plowed. During the five-day event, employees received an average of three texts per day warning them, for instance, that a public health clinic was closed or that an agency would be starting late because of dangerous roads. “Employees who received messages during the weather event reported high levels of satisfaction and perceived utility from the program,” the authors wrote.