Patty Mechael, Nadi Kaonga, and Hima Batavia, researchers at the Earth Institute (EI), assisted in designing the first ever mHealth survey module as part of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Second Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe) Survey. The resulting report, entitled “mHealth – New horizons for Health Using Mobile Technologies,” was officially launched at the mHealth Summit in Cape Town, South Africa on June 7, 2011, by Micheal (Misha) Kay of the GOe at WHO. The EI researchers worked on the structure of the report while results were collated by partners at the WHO. The EI researchers then assisted colleagues at WHO in the analysis, beginning in March 2010, followed by a write-up over the next few months.
Completed by 114 Member States, the survey documented and analyzed four aspects of mHealth: adoption of initiatives, types of initiatives, status of evaluation, and barriers to implementation. Fourteen categories of mHealth services were surveyed: health call centers, emergency toll-free telephone services, managing emergencies and disasters, mobile telemedicine, appointment reminders, community mobilization and health promotion, treatment compliance, mobile patient records, information access, patient monitoring, health surveys and data collection, surveillance, health awareness raising and decision support systems.
The findings include:
• Higher-income countries show more mHealth activity than do lower-income countries (consistent with eHealth trends in general). Countries in the European Region are currently the most active and those in the African Region the least active.
• mHealth is most easily incorporated into processes and services which historically use voice communication through conventional telephone networks.
• mHealth was least frequently used in surveillance, raising public awareness and decision support systems. These require enhanced capabilities and infrastructure to implement, and therefore may not be a health priority in Member States with financial constraints.
• Competing health system priorities was consistently rated as the greatest barrier to mHealth adoption by responding countries.
• In order to be considered among other priorities, mHealth programs require evaluation, which provide solid evidence on which policy-makers, administrators, and other actors can base their decisions.
• There are legitimate concerns about the security of citizen information by programs using mobile health technologies. In particular, message transmission security and data storage security can put citizen information at risk if the necessary precautions are not taken. Policy-makers and program managers need to be made aware of security issues in the mHealth domain so appropriate policies and strategies can be developed and implemented.
The report can be downloaded here: http://www.who.int/goe/publications/ehealth_series_vol3/en/