The National Institutes of Health is soliciting grant applications for a new mobile health project, known as mHealth. The purpose of this initiative is to stimulate research utilizing Mobile Health (mHealth) tools aimed at the improvement of effective patient–provider communication, adherence to treatment and self-management of chronic diseases in under-served populations. With the rapid expansion of cellular networks and substantial advancements in Smartphone technologies, it is now possible – and affordable – to transmit patient data digitally from remote areas to specialists in urban areas, receive real-time feedback, and capture that consultation in a database. These mHealth tools, therefore, may facilitate more timely and effective patient-provider communication through education communication around goal setting, treatment reminders, feedback on patient progress and may improve health outcomes.
What is mHealth?
mHealth stands for the provision of health-related services using mobile communication technology. Modern information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as the internet, are not yet commonly available in resource-poor settings. This growing area provides health systems with new possibilities to address problems in accessibility, quality, effectiveness, efficiency and costs of health care. Clients of health services make and receive phone calls or text/voice messages related to health education, treatment adherence, contacting health workers or organizing transport to health services. Health care workers receive diagnostic support, consult with colleagues, communicate with clients, enhance their skills and gather and analyze data using mobile devices.
Some other uses of mHealth include:
- Education and Awareness – Messaging in support of public health and behavioral change campaigns
- Diagnostic and Treatment Support – Mobile phone as point-of-care device
- Disease and Epidemic Outbreak Tracking – Sending and receiving data on disease incidence, outbreaks and public health emergencies
- Supply Chain Management – Using mobile solution to improve stock-outs and combat counterfeiting
- Remote Data Collection – Collecting real-time patient data with mobile applications
- Remote Monitoring – Maintaining care giver appointments or ensuring medication regime adherence
- Healthcare Worker Communication and Training – Connecting health workers with sources of information
Growing research suggests mHealth as a promising development for the provision of improved health care services to poor people and to those living in marginalized areas. Some of the current barriers that need to be overcome for the wider implementation of mHealth in health systems include:
- the enduring need for rigorous research and evaluation of costs, benefits and actual mHealth outcomes;
- insufficient knowledge of the appropriate integration into health systems;
- the lack of local ownership and involvement;
- not enough sharing of experiences, adoption of best practices and implementation of collaborative approaches.