Infield Health Builds Mobile Health Solutions with the Twilio SMS API

Can a text message a day keep patients on-track with health programs? Three years ago Doug Naegele, president of Infield Health, decided to find out.

Infield Health uses mobile technologies like SMS messaging and secure mobile web to help people adhere to programs with a certain health goal in mind. By delivering information straight to mobile phones, the company helps people better manage their health between visits to the doctor. The results, according to Infield, are better outcomes for patients and decreased costs for providers.

The company’s emphasis on mobile solutions meant finding the right telecom partner was crucial for its success. Rather than hire a developer with expertise in esoteric protocols and complex technologies, Infield chose to leverage the power of cloud communications.

Cloud communications platforms use the Internet to provide voice telephony services and text messaging capabilities to web and mobile applications. Not only does cloud communications simplify the development of telecommunications apps, it also ensures those apps can instantly scale to tens of thousands of users, or more.

Naegele recalled the first time he heard about Twilio: “I was in the office of the chief technology officer for the DC city government. There were two young programmers working on a text messaging project for parking tickets or something like that, and they were using Twilio.”

Back at home, Infield’s IT pros set up a Twilio account and started playing with the Twilio SMS API. They were immediately struck by its power and ease of use. “We can do in a day what we thought would take a month!” remarked one Infield developer.

Besides a highly reliable, scalable and secure platform, Twilio offered one big advantage to a growing company like Infield Health: It made it easy to prototype SMS applications on standard ten-digit phone numbers and move them to short codes after they were approved by a client—without any changes to the app.

Carriers require organizations that send large volumes of text messages to use short codes—five or six digit numbers that can send SMS messages at a rate of 30 texts per second. A random short code costs $3,000 for a three-month lease, and a vanity short code costs $4,500.

Naegele said it took about four months to build and test Infield Health’s first product: InfieldCMS. All Infield clients now use that content management system, built specifically for SMS and mobile web content. “Because we didn’t have to spend $50,000 integrating to a custom telecom SMS back-end with an arduous annual contract, we were able to build InfieldCMS without a first customer, then show a completed product to potential customers. As a start-up, speed-to-product was absolutely crucial,” said Naegele.

One beneficiary of the Infield/Twilio linkage is the American College of Cardiology. Infield helped ACC develop CardioSmartTXT, an app that promotes heart-healthy living. “Most of ACC’s heart-healthy outreach went from idea to testing to production-ready in under two weeks. Twilio’s flexibility makes that happen,” Naegele added.

Naegele said Twilio makes it possible for his team to “have an idea on Monday and start testing it by Wednesday.” This applies not only to features, but to entirely new apps. “When we schedule a meeting with a new prospective client, we are able to build a fully-functioning demo app and show it to them on the first day. Leading with software that works enables us to compete with firms much larger than ours,” he said.

One project that Infield Health built for WellCall, an employee wellness firm, integrates with Salesforce.com. If an employee needs a health coach, he or she simply sends a text with the word “coach” and an approved coach gets a message in Salesforce to call the employee back within one business day. “By matching a live health coach to a client who needs advice immediately, and to put it all in motion with a simple SMS, we keep our users on-track with their health goals without missing a step,” said Kerry Bradley Sylvester, director of coaching services for WellCall.

Other apps launched by Infield Health include a text message add-on to FirstBorn, which supports new mothers before and after delivery. “With Infield, FirstBorn counselors deliver healthy challenges (with incentives), patient follow-up content, and appointment reminders right to mom’s mobile phone,” said Dr. Miguel Tirado, who works with the Center for Telehealth and Cybermedicine Research at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, NM and the Ben Lujan Institute at New Mexico Highlands University.

Over the past year, data from Infield’s current campaigns suggest a 50 percent improvement in self-reported outcomes versus users who didn’t receive health messages. This summer, Virginia Commonwealth University will follow two Infield projects and strictly measure results.

“I love the idea of delivering health advice straight to someone’s mobile phone. Regardless of income, it’s the one device everyone has and everyone uses,” Naegele said.

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