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The myth of ‘mobile everywhere’

mhealth mobile health

Too much of a good thing?

Right, I think it’s about time I finished off my series on ‘mHealth Myths and Realities’.  For this final chapter I’m going to examine the myth that ‘it should be mobile everywhere’.   

Er, aren’t you the mHealth guy?

It may sound odd, coming from someone who professes to be a mobile health specialist, that I would argue against mobile as the dominant vehicle to deliver digital healthcare.   Surely this goes against everyone’s expectation that mobile health is going to fix the many challenges of rising healthcare costs, access to scarce resources and explosion of long-term conditions?  

I actually think we have made too much of a leap in forming this equation:

Healthcare needs + Ubiquitous mobile penetration = mHealth is the answer 

I do think that digital health or connected health, call it what you will, is incredibly important, but we have to recognise when it’s right to go for a mobile implementation.  In our work at Vodafone we often found feedback that our users (patients or clinicians) simply wanted to access the service on whatever device was most convenient.  In the case of infusion patients some of them would be doing their email on a laptop while they lay in bed – so we simply made the service available to them this way.  That’s why I’ve argued in earlier blogs that you should adopt a device-agnostic approach. 

So when do we use mobile?

From my work, I can see three situations when mobile is the correct approach:

  1. When mobile is obviously cheaper.  Remember how I told you about the medical device manufacturers who were surprised to find out that mobile data connections were significantly cheaper than using old-fashioned telephone lines on modern M2M plans?
  2. When mobile is obviously better.  How can the healthcare industry persist with paper diaries, especially in clinical trials, when those diaries have been shown to have a data validity as low as 11%? Simply moving to real-time, convenient capture will lift that to 80-90% easily.
  3. When mobile is the only game in town.  Look at the project we did in Tanzania, SMS for Life, which delivered a national stock management system for malaria medicines using SMS on basic phones?  Was there any viable alternative?  I honestly don’t think a full ERP system would ever work in this setting.

So there you have it, mobile isn’t the only way, but in the right case it works really well.

That’s it for now on ‘mHealth myths and reality’. I hope you enjoyed this mini-series and as usual, please feel free to agree or disagree, and of course contact me.

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