Most everyone by now has received some soft of alert on their iPhone warning of “flash flooding” or “severe thunderstorms”.

AT&T has been providing these types of bulletins to iPhone users as a way to help with safety for the general public at large.

This got me thinking.

Why not provide public health messages using this alert system?

For example, we have had an outbreak of Pertussis in the Winston Salem triad area in North Carolina.

It has caused a heightened awareness of children with paroxysmal cough, and our threshold to treat with azithromycin in order to prevent spread has significantly decreased — especially in those who have had known exposures.

What if we were able to tell AT&T to send an alert to all iPhone users with a CDC link about the outbreak?

I know at this point many of my peers might be screaming while they read this because they have thoughts of hordes of parents coming to the clinic and the ER with a child that has a cough. I would counter that we can use such alerts to educate the public at large.

This is what I imagine: AT&T sends an alert out to parents telling them about the current outbreak of pertussis. Parents are able to click on a link within the text, and they are able to go to the CDC or local public health clinic’s website, where they are taught in a simple fashion the symptoms to look out for. For example, the parents are taught that a child that just started coughing doesn’t necessarily have to be rushed into the ER, but are shown a video of the particular type of cough to look out for.

Why not use this alert system to teach even more? One of the reasons I like working in the ER is that in addition to the acute care I provide to patients, I am also able to teach them prevention. I am often shocked by what patients don’t know and the health myths in the general public. A weekly public health message approved by the CDC could do tremendous things to educate the public at large. Users could have the chance to turn these messages off, but the chance to educate would be unlimited.

Would this ever happen? I don’t know, anyone from the CDC or AT&T reading this?