With the continued expansion of mobile technology around the globe, and the
persistent lack of universal Internet connectivity, the use of mobile phones in public health
presents a new opportunity to improve health services delivery.
This intersection of mobile
technology and public health, known as mHealth, offers four distinct applications for
international development, including drug adherence and remote monitoring, remote
dissemination of information, data collection and disease outbreak surveillance, and diagnostic
treatment and support.
Several programs have addressed these mHealth applications, but
those that are most effective utilize open-source coding, are not reliant upon the Internet, and
have great potential for scalability.
Among the most promising projects in 2009, FrontlineSMS
presents the best model for public health programs and includes applications for information
dissemination and medical record data collection.
Mobile health, or mHealth, has great potential to improve health services delivery in the
mHealth harnesses the increasing presence of cell phones among diverse
populations and uses phones to deliver increased healthcare services to those receiving
A successful mHealth project will be driven by the needs, environment, and
existing technology of local users in light of recent experience.
Collaboration with local
organizations and government as well as the ability of the program to develop organically
within the targeted population are the only ways to ensure both long-term sustainability and
For effective implementation, a mHealth solution must start on a small scale with
relatively simple cellular technology, and the best and most cost-efficient pilot will be open
A pilot project that reflects these characteristics—understanding the mobile context of
end-users, building on past experience, and making the program scalable and open source—
holds the greatest potential to improve public health services delivered in the developing
Understanding the Mobile Context
mHealth is a subset of the wider field of ICT4D (information and communications
technology for development), within the sphere of e-health.
E-health, known since the 1960s
as telemedicine, refers to any process that enables healthcare delivery from a remote location,
through “tools that facilitate communication and the processing and transmission of
information by electronic means, for the purpose of improving health (including health
promotion, human resources for health, and health-service delivery).”
Mobile phones hold
great promise for improving public health in the developing world as a “leapfrog technology.”