Briefs

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

mHealth (mobile health)[1] refers to the use of mobile technology to enhance medical and public health work.[2] mHealth can make health programs and services more efficient, more accessible, and more powerful.

Access to mobile networks and devices is high – and growing – in developing countries where the United States invests.[3] Mobile devices for mHealth can range from inexpensive basic phones to smartphones and tablets.

mHealth can help patients overcome barriers to health care, help health workers access training and support, improve diagnosis and treatment, and more.[4] mHealth can be used anywhere from hospitals to rural clinics and across multiple health areas.

Mobile technology can deliver necessary training and support so health workers can more effective. Mobile learning can make training possible even in remote or underserved areas where it often does not take place.[5] This is critical, as the world is facing a severe shortage of 18 million trained health workers by 2030.[6]

In cases of outbreaks or emergencies, mHealth can help health workers, communities, and policy makers communicate quickly. For example, health workers can use mobile phones to alert authorities of outbreaks and to get information about how to protect their communities from emerging diseases.

A woman learns about smartphone-based data collection in her role as eld supervisor for the PMA2020 project in Rajasthan, India. Credit: © 2016 Linnea Zimmerman/PMA2020, Courtesy of Photoshare

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CONGRESS

Invest in appropriate mobile technology to strengthen existing global health efforts, including disease-specific programs and health systems strengthening, as well as for maternal and child health. Mobile tools, when well designed and tested, can accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals.

Support mHealth solutions that respond to locally identified needs, resources, and priorities. This should include implementing the Principles for Digital Development,[7] which provide guidelines for using technology in development programs and address common concerns, such as privacy and security.

Build on success to expand mHealth programs, focusing on the long-term commitment necessary for a program to grow. This should include careful design, deployment, and training to integrate mHealth tools into health systems.

Actively promote and support partnerships for mHealth. Partnerships between governments, private sector companies, technology and content developers, and other groups can lead to financially sustainable, user-oriented mHealth programs. For example, health programs have partnered with mobile network operators to provide free health information to consumers.

Invest in health systems, including workforce development and support. mHealth is a revolutionary approach for access to information, increased opportunities for health worker training, and data surveillance. mHealth tools will have the greatest impact within a strong health workforce and health system. The United States should support partner countries’ efforts to improve their health systems and support their health workers.

A woman in Ntcheu, Malawi, uses a mobile phone as part of a VillageReach two-way SMS project that allows community health workers to register pregnant women in their villages, log their estimated delivery dates, encourage them to continue attending ANC, and discuss where they will deliver. Credit: © 2015 Jodi-Ann Burey/ VillageReach, Courtesy of Photoshare

WHY IS THIS INVESTMENT IMPORTANT?

Mobile health, or mHealth, refers to the use of mobile technology to achieve health goals. Examples of mHealth include sending health information to patients via text message; using mobile technology to collect epidemiological and other data for more effective decision making; helping health workers learn new information and make more accurate diagnoses; and more. mHealth tools are being used to strengthen disease-focused health programs, and mHealth can improve access to quality health care, help health systems function better, and help health workers work more effectively.[8]

As access to mobile phones continues to grow, and the price of smartphones is dropping in developing countries,[9] mHealth provides an opportunity to reach out to communities. For example, South Africa’s MomConnect project sends text messages to pregnant women and new mothers to help them care for themselves and their children and encourages them to seek health care. With a single text message, vital information is able to reach millions of women and families.

Educators are also using mobile technology to bring educational opportunities to health workers in rural or hard-to-reach areas, where they often receive little or no training.[10] Mobile apps, video content, quizzes, and other forms of mobile learning can help health workers gain new information and keep their skills fresh. These materials can be used even without an internet connection. For example, the mPowering Frontline Health Workers partnership[11] is using mobile technology to provide educational opportunities for thousands of health workers so that they can provide better care to their patients.

mHealth has an important role to play in the global health security agenda. For example, community health workers are using mobile tools to collect data about health in their communities and automatically alert authorities to potential outbreaks. During the Ebola crisis in West Africa, mHero[12] allowed Ministries of Health to share urgent information with health workers directly to their phones.[13]

Investments in mHealth have benefits across diseases and health areas, and can increase the range and impact of existing work in some of the hardest to reach areas. When mobile tools are developed using open source code and openly licensed content, they can be built upon by others and adapted to new countries, health contexts, or technologies. Success in mHealth requires new partnerships with governments, technologists, nonprofits, the private sector, and others.

Resources

  1. mHealth Knowledge Site http://bit.ly/2h5wrdM
  2. mHealth Compendium http://bit.ly/2dmXcMI
  3. ORB Mobile Training Content Platform http://bit.ly/2hpLCld

Contributors

Carolyn Moore, mPowering Frontline Health Workers, Carolyn.Moore@mPoweringHealth.org


Citations

[1] Sometimes also referred to as digital health

[2] “mHealth Compendium,” African Strategies for Health Project, 2013. http://bit.ly/2f7DrF4.

[3] ICT Facts and Figure Sheet, 2015. International Telecommunication Union. http://bit.ly/1QTSz61.

[4] Labrique, A.B.; Vasudevan, L., Kochi, E., Fabricant, R., Mehl, G. “mHealth innovations as health system strengthening tools: 12 common applications and a visual framework,” Global Health: Science and Practice, 1(2): 160-171. 2013. http://bit.ly/2gbfzVs.

[5] “The Current State of CHW Training Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia: What We Know, What We Don’t Know, and What We Need to Do.” http://bit.ly/1SeJUPD.

[6] “Global Health Workforce Shortage to Reach 12.9 Million in Coming Decades.” http://bit.ly/ZMg8cv.

[7] “Principles for Digital Development.” http://bit.ly/1HfFxPB.

[8] “mHealth Compendium Volume 5, Publications developed by Management Sciences for Health (MSH) for USAID, 2015.” http://bit.ly/2dmXcMI.

[9] “ICT Facts and Figure Sheet, 2015.” http://bit.ly/1QTSz61.

[10] “The Current State of CHW Training Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia: What We Know, What We Don’t Know, and What We Need to Do.”

[11] “mPowering Frontline Health Workers.” http://bit.ly/1o1yWvg.

[12] mHero was created by UNICEF and IntraHealth International. http://bit.ly/2hLfMjN.

[13] mHero was created by UNICEF and IntraHealth International.

©2017 Global Health Council