New text alert system aids child and maternal care in Cedar-Riverside

Reminders for Readiness aims to make health care more accessible for the Somali community.

University junior Faisa Ahmed demonstrates how a new health text messaging system, which aims to close the racial gap in healthcare, works on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at the People's Center Clinic in Minneapolis. This system is a research project at the University and is conducting some of the project with families in nearby Cedar-Riverside.

Tony Saunders

University junior Faisa Ahmed demonstrates how a new health text messaging system, which aims to close the racial gap in healthcare, works on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at the People’s Center Clinic in Minneapolis. This system is a research project at the University and is conducting some of the project with families in nearby Cedar-Riverside.

Farrah Mina

A team of University of Minnesota researchers are piloting a new text messaging system that aims to promote child and maternal wellness in the Cedar-Riverside community.

The program, Reminders for Readiness (R4R), sends text messages to parents reminding them to take their children to check-ups and get them immunized. The reminders are short audio packages — in English and Somali — that integrate Somali culture and tradition into their content. The text messaging system aims to erase barriers to health care that many Somalis experience.

“There is an issue of lack of trust around the professionals who [do] not understand the culture, who [do] not understand the language,” said Amano Dube, director of the Cedar-Riverside’s Brian Coyle Center. This lack of trust makes it difficult for immigrant communities to disclose sensitive health issues, Dube added.

Somali is not traditionally a written language, so the researchers opted for audio messages, said R4R project director Amy Susman-Stillman. In order to create culturally sensitive material, the team of researchers consulted several members of Minneapolis’ Somali community, she said.

“We looked at different Somali folktales and some readings that were from the Quran about child-rearing so that we had a good idea of how child-rearing and thinking about children is approached,” Susman-Stillman said. We felt that was important because so much of child-rearing advice or information can be laden with different cultural perspectives, and so we wanted to make sure that we were not necessarily imposing some other perspective that might not be something that would work for the Somali parents.”

The system also sends audio text messages containing advice about basic educational tips to promote healthy child development. For example, the system sends messages to remind parents to read to their children.

The team partnered with People’s Center Clinics and Services, a non-profit health center specializing in serving diverse communities, in order to provide accurate information that clinic experts would usually provide in person.

Deb Olson has served as a pediatric nurse practitioner at People’s Center for approximately 12 years. According to Olson, who regularly works with interpreters, language is the primary barrier between healthcare and immigrant communities.

Olson said the differences between healthcare systems in the U.S. and those of other countries are another barrier. 

“If you didn’t grow up in a healthcare system in the United States,” Olson said, “which, you know, emphasizes preventive care as well as acute care, it’s difficult sometimes for people to understand why you treat high blood pressure … even though you’re not experiencing symptoms on that particular day.”

Because of this, Olson has found that education is a huge part of her job. She is optimistic about R4R’s potential as an educational tool that can help mothers make decisions about their children’s health and their readiness for learning.

Dube said he believes that the Somali community will be receptive to R4R’s approach.

“Messages are always helpful when [they are] carved in a way that follows the mode of communication the community has and respects how they communicate with each other,” Dube said.