Innovations in mobile technology have shown in low- and middle-income countries that there are effective ways to improve access to health services and health information, reduce the cost of healthcare delivery, and provide quality data for decision making. These “mHealth” or “mobile health” technologies are delivered on smartphones, but some also are accessed via earlier-generation mobile devices that feature only voice and text messaging. Such devices are most common in the developing world where there is still only limited Internet connectivity.
Practical examples of mHealth applications include voice information from a provider, and mobile messaging to improve health behaviors—including, for example, medication adherence, prenatal care reminders and alerts, and chronic disease self-management. At the level of policy and health services decision making, mobile technologies have helped to improve training and service quality of healthcare workers; reduce the cost of services by reducing redundancy and duplication; and enhance access to reliable data to facilitate decision making.
MEASURE Evaluation is a leader in mHealth and health informatics. The project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), strengthens health information systems in developing countries to provide evidence on health system performance and the impact of health services on people’s lives. Our work includes developing best practices in mobile technology for monitoring and evaluation of health information systems, and mobile data collection (on tablets and mobile phones) for a variety of research studies—including data to reach populations at high risk of HIV, determine if HIV services are available in identified high-risk areas, and studies aimed to strengthen the HIV referral network. For example, the project conducts research on South Africa’s national MomConnect program, which uses mobile messaging to deliver preventive health messages to pregnant women.
Still, there are constraints to mHealth programs that MEASURE Evaluation is working with USAID and its partners to address. These include developing standards for privacy and security for mobile technologies and identifying new opportunities for enhanced delivery of mHealth. At this time, SMS (texting) is the most widespread mHealth method, but because texting typically involves only sending messages from healthcare providers, there is an unmet need for methods for healthcare users to request health information or services.
mHealth is dynamic and growing, as technology always is rapidly changing. Newer basic phones can accommodate a memory card, carrying video and other media, and smartphones are becoming more and more affordable. MEASURE Evaluation continues to research and foster the best uses of current and promising technologies to improve global health.