mHealth: a Revolution or a Fad?

| April 13, 2012 | 1 Comment

In today’s world, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that people communicate more through mobile communications than through any other mode of communication. The prevalence of mobile phones use is, quite literally, taking over the world. Around 4 billion people currently own mobile phones [3]; that’s over half the world population. More surprisingly, almost two-thirds of mobile phone users are from developing countries [4]. The fastest growth of mobile phone use is seen in the developing countries, and the lack of technology is hindering health care quality growth in those same countries: it seems almost too obvious that the combination of mobile phone technology and health care should only be beneficial. Or is it?

Health workers preparing their mobile phones to assure synchronization before data collection. Photo courtesy of the UN foundation.

mHealth describes the use of mobile and multimedia technologies in the medical field, used especially to advance health care quality in poorer countries. There are many areas in which mHealth could be helpful: keeping electronic medical records, better communication between and among patients and physicians, data collection, and so on [2]. However, there have been many unexpected barriers in the execution of this idea.

Medical records are an important means of information sharing between health professionals. Given the increasing number of problems with paper medical records, transitioning to electronic medical records has definite advantages. For example, electronic medical records are easier to update, and are more cost-effective while also being more accessible.  In addition, electronic medical records have functions that can link physicians to relevant medical information or reminders, to avoid overseeing unusual or life-threatening results. However, these advantages are met with just as many disadvantages. Some of these disadvantages include high startup costs and a high learning curve required to effectively implement electronic medical record systems [1].

Another important aspect of mHealth is educating patients and raising awareness of health issues. This is especially necessary and welcome in developing countries. For example, a recent campaign to increase health awareness through SMS in Bangladesh returned positive results. The campaign was able to reach about 55 million mobile phone users through mass health messages, and was able to reach about 100,000 health care practitioners in a more time-effective manner [5]. However, such campaigns also reveal some disadvantages. Text messages usually have a limit on character count, constraining the content of the message. Illiteracy and language barriers are also topics of unsolved issues [2].

Like many other technologies, research plays a large part in tracking the progress of current programs and policies. mHealth plays a crucial part in data collection because it is easier and more reliable for patients to enter information through mobile technologies than to do so manually [4]. Although this saves time and reduces errors, it also increases the need for communication between health care practitioners and researchers at all levels [2].

It is evident that mHealth is a new technology that needs improvement in implementation. However, this is just the beginning for mHealth. All the disadvantages identified have possible solutions that will change the reputation of mHealth from a fad to an innovative revolution.

[1] Gurley, Lori. Advantages and Disadvantages of the Electronic Medical Record. American Academy of Medical Administrators, 2004. Web.

[2] Mechael, Patricia, Hima Batavia, Nadi Kaonga, Sarah Searle, Ada Kwan, Adina Goldberger, Lin Fu, and James Ossman. Barriers and Gaps Affecting MHealth and Low and Middle Income Countries: Policy White Paper. Mhealth Alliance and Center for Global Health and Economic Development Earth Institute, Columbia University, May 2010. Web.

[3] Kessler, Sarah. “Mobile By the Numbers.” Web log post. Microsoft TAG. Microsoft, 21 Mar. 2011. Web. <>.

[4] Vital Wave Consulting. mHealth for Development: The Opportunity of Mobile Technology for Healthcare in the Developing World. Washington, D.C. and Berkshire, UK: UN Foundation-Vodafone Foundation Partnership, 2009

[5] World Health Organization. MHealth: New Horizons for Health through Mobile Technologies. Vol. 3. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2011. Global Observatory for EHealth Ser. 2011. Web.

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  1. Sazia says:

    Very informative article on mHealth. I came across this while going through my NovoEd course: mHealth without boundaries.
    This will really help the present healthcare system in developing nations across the globe.

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