Improving Global Health With Smartphone Technology: A Decade in Review of mHealth Initiatives

Improving Global Health With Smartphone Technology: A Decade in Review of mHealth Initiatives

Swateja Nimkar, Erin Elysia Gilles
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7909-0.ch004
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The widespread use of smartphones makes them a popular platform for healthcare applications. This article reveals the global trends and overarching goals of mHealth initiatives that seek to enhance healthcare quality, increase access to health services, and improve global health communication. Three main themes emerged from this study: a) the impact of mHealth on international public health, b) overcoming mhealth barriers, and c) emerging mHealth technologies. The costs of developing mHealth apps and handling related data security concerns are the key barriers which need to be addressed to successfully implement global mHealth campaigns. Future directions of mHealth research are discussed, including the integration of new technologies, development of innovative healthcare systems, and overall improvement of global healthcare.
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Mobile health, widely known as mHealth, encompasses a diverse range of mobile technologies with goals of enhancing health care quality, improving patient outcomes, increasing accessibility of health services, and further strengthening the field of health communication (Chang et al., 2012; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2016; World Health Organization, 2011). mHealth has been originally defined as the “emerging mobile communications and network technologies for healthcare systems” (Istepanian, Laxminarayan, & Pattichis, 2007, p. 3). It employs mobile internet access, software applications (apps), global positioning systems (GPS), text messaging, and Bluetooth for the connection of multiple devices (Speciale & Fretysis, 2013). The existing and emerging technology of mHealth is used by patients, health providers, public health personnel, and researchers across the globe. According to a recent report, more than 100,000 mHealth apps have been developed across the health, fitness, and medical fields (Research2Guidance, as cited in Xu & Liu, 2015). Globally, mHealth apps have been used for a innovative health services and applications, which vary in scale, scope, and duration. The U.S., Canada, Norway are among the top international supporters of mHealth technology (Schuchman, 2014). This paper presents a thorough review of current literature focusing on the last decade of research conducted on mHealth applications and global trends since the introduction of the smartphone in 2007. This exploration of a decade’s worth of mHealth smartphone applications addresses gaps in the existing literature by contributing to the evolving body of knowledge in the following areas:

  • International mHealth projects that impact public health, health communications, and global health promotion;

  • Barriers in mHealth projects;

  • Research on emerging mHealth trends and technologies.

On a global scale, mHealth has been applied to a broad spectrum of health topics in a range of countries. The projects in which mHealth has been used vary in scale, scope, and duration. Some of the many applications of mHealth in global projects include: the FoodSwitch app for nutrition information in Australia (Dunford et al., 2014); a communication tool between AIDS patients and peer health workers in rural Uganda (Chang et al., 2011); a Cambodian program to increase contraceptive use among post-abortion women (Smith et al., 2013); the basis for a smoking cessation mHealth program in New Zealand (Whittaker, Merry, Dorey, & Maddison, 2012); and the primary tool in an information campaign to foster safer sexual practices in Uganda (Jamison, Karlan, & Raffler, 2013).

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