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What is mHealth anyway?

I thought I’d start my first blog with an attempt at a definition of mHealth – partly to make my views clear, and partly because I welcome contributions to this debate. And does a definition matter anyway?


Lots of words but little meaning?

Let’s start with an external perspective though. According to the WHO mHealth is “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices”.  At Vodafone we evolved this definition into “the incorporation of mobile technologies into services  which support  increased access, more accurate and timely information, better health outcomes or reduced cost” the emphasis here being on ‘services’. We felt very strongly that mHealth had to mean a commitment to an ongoing service package, rather than a one-off event like downloading an app. We also felt that mHealth was not just about the technology, and needed to encompass the people and processes that create an end to end improvement, in outcomes, costs, capacity.

 Maybe it’s easier to define mHealth by what it’s not (in my humble opinion anyway):

       It’s not about downloaded apps – because most of these will be ignored and deleted anyway (according to Localytics, a quarter of apps are only used once, and two thirds of apps are used no more than ten times)

       It’s not about a specific phone or device – because devices are a fashion industry and you can never pick a winner

       It’s not about people using their phones for obvious, generic activity like calling their HCP (even if that is not as easy as it should be)

       It’s not an activity reserved exclusively for a minority of the population i.e. smartphone savvy teenagers or doctors – mHealth can provide value to all stakeholders, if properly designed.

 So if it’s not those things, what is mHealth about and why does it matter? For me, it’s about the convergence of 3 megatrends:

       the very obvious rise in demand for healthcare due to an ageing population and growth of lifestyle diseases like diabetes

       the simultaneous pressure on healthcare budgets as both public and private purses have been squeezed by the biggest global recession since the 1930s

       the personal attachment we have to our mobile device along with its ubiquity (the UN reported that there are more mobiles per person in the world than toilets!)

 Putting those drivers together leads us to an another definition of what mHealth is – it’s not a product or a system, really it’s a vision of how we can deliver access to affordable, universal healthcare, making best use of our scarce resources. And with that in mind I think it matters very much.

 Please feel free to add to the debate here or contact me.

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