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Good news or bad news for mHealth?

good news for mhealth digital health

Some months ago I reported my excitement at seeing mHealth feature in mainstream news channels such as the Guardian, the BBC and the Financial Times. As I said at the time, what mattered wasn’t the content itself but the fact that these reputable agencies thought that mHealth had become important enough to take to their audience. As a result, I confidently predicted we were moving to a mature era of enlightenment and mass participation.

Disappointingly though, I recently saw coverage of another mHealth story that left me thinking we haven’t progressed much at all since then. This time it was the BBC again, who reported a study by Professor David Wald of Queen Mary College London on the effectiveness of SMS reminders amongst heart patients. The report talked about one sixth improvement in adherence amongst patients in the intervention group, which would be regarded as significant.

Good news or bad?

So why was I depressed when an mHealth news item appeared on a respected mainstream channel? Simply because the BBC presenter Bill Turnbull described it as a new service’. Call me over-sensitive, but the choice of words said everything to me. To call SMS reminders for medicine adherence ‘new’ showed that we still haven’t achieved any sort of real awareness of mHealth in the mainstream.

SMS reminders have been one of the most obvious applications for mHealth, and it wasn’t hard to find a study published as far back as 2009 reporting a significant adherence benefit (in this case amongst transplant patients). It certainly isn’t a new idea and to be honest given the prevalence of clinical appointment reminder services it’s staggering that it isn’t already widely deployed. Granted that SMS reminders are only a partial answer to adherence, and a more closed loop system like the Proteus smartpill or Merck Serono’s smart injector offer a lot more, but it’s cheap and cheerful and easy to implement.

So a year on from the survey that said 73% of the population didn’t understand the term ‘mHealth’ at all, it seems we still have a mountain to climb in terms of the huge communications gap surrounding mHealth.

Let’s take the ‘new’ out of ‘news’

Let me finish by saying that I intend no criticism of Professor Wald’s work. Nor am I criticising the BBC’s reporting – they simply try to reflect the zeitgeist. I do think it’s a criticism of everyone who works in the field of mHealth though – what can we do to get the message across? One day it would be nice if mHealth wasn’t ‘news’ at all – it should simply be a commonly accepted route to better health. If you have any ideas please let me know, or you can always contact me.

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