Mobile health or m-health is referred to the use of latest mobile technology to support and improve medical services. Mobile devices such as PDAs and mobile phones are used for collecting patient information, monitoring of health services, delivering of health care information to doctors, patients, and research analysts and providing patient care about the basis of the data collected. Mobile health is a part of e-health, which is the utilization of information and communication technology in the form of computers, satellites, mobile phones, etc. in health care. Mobile health and e-health are linked to each other as a project of mobile health, which is used to collect data on any illness, requires the use of e-health system to store and manage the data.
Mobile health has been quite popular in developed countries; however, due to the increased use of mobile phones in the developing nations, it has emerged as an application that provides better penetration of healthcare services in these nations.
Mobile phones are the backbone of any mobile health project. The SMS functions and voice communications services are utilized the most in m-health. Apart from mobile phones, laptops operating on wireless, patient monitoring devices, data collection software and various other software applications specialized for the healthcare sector are being developed as a part of mobile health.
Advantages of Mobile health
The basic advantages of mobile health are:
- Integration of technology with the health sector will lead to improved communication between patients and health professionals; hence, decision-making on a case becomes faster. This actually may lead to decreased morbidity and mortality due to chronic illnesses such as diabetes, as information on the disease is easily available to the patients.
- Health communication is improved drastically using mobile health, thereby improving the quality of lives of patients.
- Using mobile health, medical, and healthcare information can be accessed in far off places almost instantaneously where it was impossible previously.
- Health care costs are also reduced due to mobile health as prevention of various diseases can be promoted by communicating change in behavior for healthier lifestyles.
Various applications categories in the mobile health field
The various application categories as identified by UN Foundation are:
Education and awareness: The programs of education and awareness involve sending healthcare information on various diseases via an SMS to users on a large scale. The major advantages are:
Information is sent even to remote areas such as rural areas that have lack of healthcare clinics and workers, thereby limiting their access to healthcare information.
Helpline: As the name indicates, helpline is a specific phone number that any individual can call to have access to various medical services such as consultation, healthcare information, counseling, etc.
Diagnostic and treatment support systems for communicating and training of healthcare workers: These are designed to support the healthcare workers in the remote areas for appropriate diagnosis and treatment of diseases. The healthcare workers can connect with their mobile phones to other workers and medical institutes.
Disease surveillance, remote data collection and tracking of epidemic outbreak: Mobile phones are utilized to collect data regarding various epidemic outbreaks and then data is transmitted quickly to the policy makers and health ministry so as appropriate decisions can be taken to provide medical services.
Chronic disease management by providing treatment support: Mobile health is used to track and manage chronic diseases such and diabetes by the healthcare workers. Patients are sent regular text messages enquiring about their illness, advised on their medicine schedule and healthy lifestyle habits.