The World Health Organizations (WHO) recently released the findings of a comprehensive survey on the state of mHealth usage in 112 member states. For the purposes of the survey, the Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe) defined mHealth or mobile health as medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices.
The survey results highlight that the dominant form of mHealth today is characterized by small-scale pilot projects that address single issues in information sharing and access. A vast majority (83%) reported at least one mHealth initiative in their country. Of this 83%, most Member States reported implementing four or more types of mHealth initiatives.
The four most frequently reported mHealth initiatives were: health call centres (59%), emergency toll-free telephone services (55%), managing emergencies and disasters (54%), and mobile telemedicine (49%). The least frequently reported mHealth initiatives were health surveys (26%), surveillance (26%), awareness raising (23%), and decision support systems (19%).
The study identified 6 major types of mHealth initiatives:
1) Communication between individuals and health services
• Health call centres/Health care telephone help line
The African, Americas and Eastern Mediterranean Regions reported health call centres/ health care telephone help lines that address specific health issues such as HIV/AIDS, H1N1, reproductive health/family planning, pandemics, and drug abuse.
• Emergency toll-free telephone services
The South-East Asia Region reported the highest percentage of emergency toll-free telephone services (88%).
2) Communication between health services and individuals
• Treatment compliance
Approximately one third of responding Member States across all WHO regions reported conducting treatment compliance initiatives.
• Appointment reminders
Countries in the high-income group reported the largest proportion of appointment reminder initiatives (71%). The majority of these initiatives were established (42%) using various functionalities including voice, SMS, and the Internet.
• Community mobilization
SMS was the primary method of communication used in the initiatives. The Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, and South-East Asia Regions reported the highest adoption for community mobilization and health promotion.
• Awareness raising over health issues
Awareness raising initiatives showed relatively low levels of uptake across WHO regions, though the Eastern Mediterranean (28%), European (28%) and Americas (25%) Regions reported using this initiative the most. Main health topics for these initiatives were women’s health, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking cessation, and HIV/AIDS.
3) Consultation between health care professionals
• Mobile telemedicine
The Americas (75%), European (64%) and South-East Asia (62%) Regions reported high rates of adoption of mobile telemedicine initiatives, though a large proportion of these initiatives were informal or in the pilot phase.
4) Intersectoral communication in emergencies
The use of mobile devices for emergency communications was one of the most frequently reported initiatives across all WHO regions. The African, South-East Asia, and Americas Regions, have the highest levels of adoption at 48%, 75%, and 67% respectively.
5) Health monitoring and surveillance
mHealth surveillance activity is more prevalent in countries in the low-income (40%) and lower-middle income groups (27%) than those in the higher-income groups.
• Patient monitoring
Patient monitoring initiatives were most prevalent in the European Region (47%), followed by the Region of the Americas (33%). Countries in the high-income group reported the highest levels of activity in this area (58%).
6) Access to information for health care professionals at point of care
• Information and decision support systems
The South-East Asia (62%) and Americas (58%) Regions had the highest proportion of Member States with information initiatives. There is low global uptake of mobile decision support systems within WHO regions; no region reported adoption of over 25%.
• Patient records
The level of adoption of mobile patient records was moderate across all WHO regions and World Bank income groups.
Competing health system priorities was consistently rated as the greatest barrier to mHealth adoption by responding countries
One Indian mHealth initiative merits special mention. mDhil is a health promotion organization launched in India with a for-profit business model. For 1 rupee a day, consumers receive to their mobile phone three health messages created by registered nurses and physicians on topics such as weight management, sexual health, and H1N1. At the end of 2009, mDhil had 150 000 paid subscribers, and closed a ‘series A financing round’ with a venture capital firm. mDhil sent out 1 million public health SMS messages by the end of 2010
You can Download the report here: