mHealth

Why does mHealth matter?

There are 5.4 billion mobile connections in low- and middle-income countries, and this number is rapidly growing. Many mobile phone users are health workers and their clients, who face a range of barriers to accessing health information and services. Mobile health, or mHealth, offers opportunities to reach communities in ways that traditional health services cannot.

Key messages

  • Rapidly spreading mobile phone use and ownership offer new opportunities to reach remote, underserved, and marginalized populations with health information and services.
  • Evidence indicates that mHealth solutions can generate cost efficiencies and improve the capacity of health systems to provide quality services.
  • mHealth can be used for specific health areas (like family planning or HIV prevention) and to support cross-cutting health systems functions (like improving logistics management information systems).

Definitions

eHealth is the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for health, including laptop and desktop computers and servers, television and radio, teleconferencing systems, and all of the devices used in mHealth.

mHealth is the use of mobile and wireless technologies, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants, and mobile software applications (apps), to support the achievement of health objectives.

mHealth is a subset of eHealth, and both involve the application of ICTs to support health and health-related activities.

Overview

Growing interest

Over the past decade, mHealth has emerged as a cutting-edge tool for expanding access to health information and services around the world. As low- and middle-income countries work to meet the health needs of their populations, mHealth can facilitate and support key processes ranging from patient monitoring to client-centered health information to supply chain management. mHealth also offers unprecedented opportunities for real-time data collection.

Real-world relevance

The transformative potential of mHealth and its rapid growth worldwide are due primarily to four converging factors:

  1. Unprecedented growth of mobile phone users and decreasing cost of phones/air time
  2. Rapid expansion of mobile networks
  3. Innovation in mobile technology
  4. The need within health systems for flexible, simple, multi-purpose approaches

Considerations

While mHealth is often regarded as a game-changing practice, it is also important to note the limitations of mHealth, which include notable gender inequities in mobile phone ownership, gaps in mobile network coverage, the high cost of phones and voice/text services in some markets, and limited literacy (both reading and technological) among some populations. Furthermore, although evidence is growing to demonstrate the role of mHealth in improving different health outcomes, more research is needed to inform the development, implementation, and scale-up of mHealth solutions. No matter the type of health service, it is important to remember that mHealth does not replace a health system—it is simply one tool in program managers’ and policy makers’ toolboxes to support the achievement of health outcomes.

 

Topic last updated: June 29, 2017