How can email be used as a health intervention?

Many are enthusiastic about the possibility of social media being used as a behavior change intervention. For some, the verdict is still out. While we continue to advance the science behind social, don’t forget about email (and search for that matter). For today, let’s look at email.

Email at Work

Oncologists who receive email reminders are more likely to ask terminally ill patients about their end-of-life wishes, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Before the implementation of email reminders, fewer than 15% of patients had their final wishes recorded. After one year of the intervention, one-third of the patients had their final wishes recorded.

This study isn’t alone. Email reminders have helped influence emergency physician behavior. Another email intervention led to improved diet and exercise. This systematic review looked at 13 specific interventions that incorporated email prompts. And the list. doesn’t. stop. there.

Triggers and Behavior Change

I’ve been reading up on text messaging for health promotion efforts for a client-related project. A number of text-messaging vendors include email alerts and updates as a part of their offering. Why? Because emails–just like texts–can serve as triggers for behavior change or as a “gentle nudge” as KevinMD.com discussed back in 2011.

Triggers can be powerful partners in behavior change as demonstrated in the Fogg Behavior Model. We want to put hot triggers in front of motivated people. Email alerts and reminders can be a step in a chain of desired behaviors, helping to create what I refer to as, your behavior change funnel. Small steps can lead to larger outcomes.

Think about it. Why do you think non-profits put such an emphasis on email marketing as part of fundraising? Email triggers action.

Email Is Not Dead

This isn’t “new” news to a number of people in the field. But it’s a great reminder. In August 2011, Pew Research shared that “search and email still top the list of most popular online activities.” Yet a number of conversations start with social and don’t fully open the door to considering email and search (let alone move to a mobile-first discussion).

How are you using email to support your health promotion and behavior change efforts?