Mobile health (mHealth) is the use of mobile phones and technologies, such as tablets, to improve health access, outcomes, delivery, services, and research. The field requires individuals from multiple disciplines, such as medicine, public health, business, computer science, to come together and produce products that serve in both developing and developed nations.
Cell phones are increasingly prevalent in low and middle-income countries (LMIC), while access to health care systems and providers can be challenging. In this way, mHealth can be a valuable tool for improving health access and outcomes and filling in some of the gaps which providers cannot. mHealth can also be useful for delivering care and education here in the United States, though the technologies serve different functions than in LMIC.
With the growth of mobile phone usage and the needs of patients around the world, mHealth will continue to grow and serve diverse purposes. A report by Grand View Research estimated the value of the global mHealth market to be $1.95 billion in 2012, with an estimated annual growth rate of 47.6% from 2014 to 2020. Monitoring services, such as chronic disease management and vital signs tracking, accounted for 63% of the market.
Just earlier this year, researchers at Northwestern and the University of Illinois published a report in Science detailing the design of a new soft, adhesive patch for physiological monitoring. A 2013 graduate of the Feinberg School of Medicine, Diana Cohen, developed an app called diet & acne to deliver information about connections between foods and acne, based on peer-reviewed literature. From April 1, 2013 to Aug 31, 2013, the app was downloaded in 98 countries.
The NIH currently has a research funding opportunity entitled “Mobile Health: Technology and Outcomes in Low and Middle Income Countries,” under the R21 Exploratory/Developmental Research grant category. This demonstrates the perceived potential and need for the new technologies for use in these nations.
Additionally, an annual mHealth Summit is held to bring the minds working in the field together. This year, innovation and evidence will be emphasized as delegates share successes and challenges in their endeavors.
One mHealth platform, emocha, demonstrates the variety of potential applications of mobile health. Here are five brief examples of projects with diverse methods and objectives.
1. Weight management (Maryland, USA)- A platform was created to send users motivation and tips via text message. As a follow up, the data will be analyzed and managed.
2. TB screening (Panama and Mexico)- emocha used WHO guidelines to create an interactive TB symptom screening application. This project also included educational tools to keep providers up to date on TB care.
3. Chagas control (Bolivia and Mexico)- If the Chagas insect is found during household assessments, emocha coordinates appointments to decontaminate the homes.
4. Domestic violence intervention (Maryland, Virginia, Wisconsin, USA)- Using a tablet, patients are shown informational videos and screened. Questionnaires in the application assess the risk of domestic violence and also provide care referrals.
5. Dengue control (Colombia)- Once water containers are tested for bacteria, photos are uploaded to the emocha platform with geo-locations and are managed there.
These examples are just a few of the numerous examples of mHealth. The projected growth of the industry makes it worthwhile to stay updated with the latest in mHealth.
To find out more about NIH’s funding opportunity for mHealth, visit http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-14-028.html. To learn about the mHealth Summit, visit http://www.mhealthsummit.org/. To discover more about emocha, visit http://www.emocha.com/.