mHealth, defined as the use of mobile technology to support healthcare, is arguably one of the hottest global health trends right now. With rapid advances in mobile technologies and applications, along with the continued growth of cellular networks, mHealth has the potential to address some of the biggest healthcare challenges in the world, including access and affordability. It’s becoming more and more integrated into healthcare systems as it can significantly cut costs and increase the reach of healthcare services in both middle- and low-income countries.
This video, released last month at the Social Good Summit during UN General Assembly Week in New York City, provides the following example of the kind of impact mHealth can have in developing countries:
- Challenge – Most women around the world only have one prenatal visit with a healthcare worker. However, one billion women in developing countries have access to a mobile phone.
- Solution – Use SMS and voice messaging to provide mothers with important information in their native language at each stage of pregnancy and throughout the first full year of the child’s life.
During my last trip to Nigeria I had my first personal experience with mHealth. Upon arrival, I purchased a basic Nokia bar phone and SIM card. While playing around with the phone, I stumbled upon the Nokia Life Tools app which is a standard, built-in feature on some models of Nokia bar phones. The app provides healthcare, entertainment, agricultural, and educational information. The healthcare section peaked my interest as it includes sections for MNCH advice, men’s health, women’s health, and chronic disease information. First, you enter basic details about yourself (sex, age, language, etc.), then you scroll through and subscribe to whichever topics you’re interested in. The MNCH advice section parallels the example in the video above. It delivers weekly developmental information during pregnancy via SMS and continues with child development tips for the first few years after pregnancy. The only costs associated with the app are standard text messaging fees.
In addition to patient education, health workers and providers also use mHealth for data collection, disease surveillance and management, treatment support, direct care, and more. Developing countries are definitely embracing the movement and driving innovations in mHealth, making it an exciting field with the potential to transform healthcare all over the world.