Mobile Applications for the Health Sector

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M-health—the use of mobile applications for healthcare—is a young and dynamic field that could improve the well-being of people around the world. Mobile applications can lower costs and improve the quality of healthcare as well as shift behavior to strengthen prevention, all of which can improve health outcomes over the long term. As an intersection of health, technology, and finance, m-health is also a complex industry where it can be difficult to develop sustainable business models.

A paucity of data on the impact of m-health services, combined with a lack of interoperability between them and other mobile applications, has presented challenges for governments and other large-scale funders of global healthcare. Flexibility is critical because designing policies and regulations to steer or enhance m-health‘s growth. The industry would be best served with regulatory strategies that focus on the most urgent needs of health systems.

This report assesses the current state of m-health in the developing world, including extensive case studies of three countries—Haiti, India, and Kenya—with very different health sectors, financing options, and technological bases. It examines interventions serving entirely new functions in the health system, less costly substitutes for existing interventions, and interactive functions that multiply the power of existing interventions. In addition, the report identifies emerging trends, risks, and opportunities in the industry‘s immediate future. This report is intended to be a tool for donors and governments to understand the growing m-health industry and anticipate the policy issues that will affect its development.

The use of mobile technology creates more than 5 billion points of contact between consumers, healthcare workers, health system administrators, and firms in supply chains for health commodities.

Goals and uses of mobile health

One of the main goals of using mobile technology in the health sector is to improve the quality of and access to care. Because so many different factors can contribute to these aspects of healthcare, a wide variety of m-health interventions have arisen to address them.

For example, m-health applications can help patients manage their treatments when attention from health workers is costly, unavailable, or difficult to obtain regularly. For example, WelTel provides SMS-based messaging to monitor and support antiretroviral (ARV) therapy in Kenya. WelTel‘s SMS communications are estimated to have raised ARV patients‘ adherence to their treatment regimens by a quarter (Lester 2010). This increased adherence and associated viral load suppression lowered health system costs by 1-7 percent (WelTel 2011).

Patient tracking using m-health applications can also support the coordination and quality of care, especially in rural and underserved communities including the urban poor, women, the elderly, and the disabled. Kenya‘s ChildCount+ registers pregnant women and children 

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