In previous blog entries we discussed ways that the internet and cell phones can improve health, topics that fall under the broad terms of ‘eHealth’ (electronic health) and ‘mHealth’(mobile health) respectively.   We covered these topics for two major reasons: 1) they are important and rapidly- growing industries and 2) they are central to MEMOTEXT’s delivery of medication and treatment compliance interventions.  Although the exact definition of the terms are often disputed, eHealth tends to refer to healthcare practice and delivery supported by electronic processes while mHealth is defined as “the delivery of healthcare services via mobile communication devices1.  Examples of eHealth include electronic patient records, telemedicine and, of course, mHealth.

We already mentioned some of the statistics on cell phone usage in North America, especially those related to accessing the internet (and SNS) and health-related apps for smartphones.  This is, however, only the tip of the iceberg that is mHealth’s potential.  The widespread ownership of mobile phones means that health-related information or help is available to anyone regardless of say, income or age.  Then there are the three I’s that really make mHealth attractive, namely that mHealth is: i) Inexpensive, ii) Interactive, and iii) Instant.  The ability to communicate dynamically and in real-time put mobile phones in a unique position to affect change by providing smart, useful information in the context of daily life.

Some basic examples of how cell phones can be used in healthcare include text message reminders on when to take your medication and when your next doctor’s appointment is scheduled to take place.  More sophisticated examples of mHealth include phones with air pollution sensors that can notify an asthma patient when s/he is in an area that would likely aggravate their breathing difficulties and potentially cause an asthma attack.  Mobile phones could incorporate wearable sensor technologies that measures aspects of physical activity like heart rate, body temperature, and caloric expenditure.  These could then be set to personalized goals and provide ongoing feed-back in reference to those goals.  The simple act of wearing a pedometer (a device that measures the number of steps taken daily) has been shown to increase physical activity, and decrease body mass index and blood pressure2.  One can only imagine the far-reaching and immense benefits this could have on the health of the general population should it be included in every mobile phone!

As mobile phones become more sophisticated and the related technologies become lighter and less expensive, these types of scenarios will increase and (hopefully) so will the benefits to our health.  Don’t believe me?  Next weeks blog will review the research showing how text messaging improves health through behavior change.

References:

  1. Torgan, C.   “The mHealth Summit: Local & Global Converge”,  November 6, 2009, http://www.caroltorgan.com/mhealth-summit/, accessed on November 20, 2012.
  2. Bravata DM, Smith-Spangler C, Sundaram V, Gienger AL, Lin N, Lewis R, Stave CD, Olkin I, Sirard JR.  2007.  Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health: a systematic review.  JAMA 298(19):  2296-2304.