It’s an acronym you probably won’t hear in your doctor’s office but one that might save a family member’s life.
The term mHealth is short for “mobile health.” It’s the concept of supporting medical and public health practices by mobile technology such as patient monitoring devices, mobile phones, PDAs and other wireless technology. According to Wikipedia, it’s used to collect clinical and community health data and to quickly send information back and forth to medical personnel, researchers and caregivers. It’s also an important way to monitor a patient’s vital signs and to direct care via mobile telemedicine, such as providing directions to paramedics treating an accident or heart attack victim.
The newest device to potentially impact care in developing countries as well as emergency treatment around the globe is an ultrasound probe that can send images via a smartphone. It was recently developed by researchers at George Washington University in St. Louis, according to the Washington Post. Wireless-enabled laptops and specialized health-care software are being developed and could also play an important role in mHealth.
The concept of mHealth centers how to decentralize health care so that effective decisions can be made where patients are located, not just in large medical centers. In developing countries, this is especially important due to the shortage of both funds and trained medical technicians. Wikipedia reports that in 2006, an estimated 2.5 billion individuals out of an estimated 6.6 billion global population – almost 38 percent – were mobile phone subscribers. Health care experts expect this figure to grow to 3.3 billion, representing about half the world’s population, by 2010. The fastest growth is in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In developing countries, the number of mobile phones often surpasses the number of fixed-line phones.
A major goal of mHealth is to cut the cost of health care by maximizing efficiencies in the health care system and by promoting prevention. It can also advance clinical care and public health services by making it easier for health care practitioners to communicate with each other.
Cutting infant mortality and improving the mother’s health are major objectives. Health care experts have also targeted the fight against HIV and AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases and the growing need for access to safe drinking water.
The greatest potential benefit of mHealth technology is its ability to offer opportunities for direct voice communication. This is especially valuable in countries where literacy rates are low and multiple languages are common.
In first-world nations, medical professionals expect to see quicker and more accurate diagnoses using mHealth applications. The technology is also valuable to provide the daily or hourly monitoring required of patients with certain diseases. It could also relieve some of the struggles of caretakers who must frequently transport wheelchair or bedridden patients to medical centers for readings and tests.