m-health and the future of healthcare

m healthHEALTH IS considered as a universal human aspiration and a basic human right. The growth of society can be precise by the eminence of its populations health, how reasonably health is disseminated across the social spectrum, and the degree of protection. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), among 57 countries, generally in the developing countries, there is a serious shortage in healthcare workers, representing a total deficit of 2.4 million healthcare workers worldwide. WHO Health specialists note that within the next 10 to 15 years, policymakers and health providers in developing countries will be enforced to turn their focus to prevention and early detection rather than late-stage treatment of non-communicable diseases. This gap produces a foreseeable interventional role for mobile technology for health. Mobile for health – m-Health broadly encompasses the use of mobile telecommunication and multimedia technologies in healthcare delivery systems. A definition used at the 2010 m-Health Summit of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) was “the delivery of healthcare services via mobile communication devices”.

Mobile phones have achieved momentous saturation in developing countries over the past decade. ITU estimated that there were 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, including 3.8 billion in developing countries at the end of 2010. In the coming years, m-Health will revolutionize the way healthcare is delivered. From text message campaigns disseminating information on healthy lifestyles to the use of smart phones as medical devices capable of diagnostics and remote monitoring, mobile technology will permeate every aspect of health systems. There has been a bang of m-Health activities around the world. A 2011 global survey of 114 nations undertaken by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that m-Health initiatives have been established in many countries, but there is variation in adoption levels. Mobile technology is helping with chronic disease management, empowering the elderly and expectant mothers, reminding people to take medication at the proper time, extending service to underserved areas, and improving health outcomes and medical system efficiency. The most common activity is the creation of health call centers, which respond to patient inquiries followed by using SMS for appointment reminders, using telemedicine, accessing patient records, measuring treatment compliance, raising health awareness, monitoring patients, and physician decision support.

Mobile communication recommends an effectual means of bringing healthcare services to developing nations. With low-cost handsets and the penetration of mobile phone networks globally, tens of millions of citizens that never had normal access to a fixed-line telephone or computer now use mobile devices as every day tool for communication and data transfer. A full 64% of all mobile phone users can now be found in the developing world. Moreover, estimates show that by 2015, more than half of all individuals in isolated areas of the world will have mobile phones. This growing ubiquity of mobile phones is a central element in the promise of mobile technologies for health which Pakistan should also take full advantage of. The field has emerged in recent years as largely an application for developing countries, stemming from the rapid rise of mobile phone penetration in low-income nations. The field, then, largely emerges as a means of providing greater access to large segments of a population in developing countries, as well as improving the capacity of health system in such countries to provide quality healthcare.

Access to medical care in countryside regions is a challenge in every country around the world. Nearly every nation has disparities between urban and rural areas. Health care providers and specialists are more likely to be located in densely-populated jurisdictions because that is where hospitals and advanced equipment are found. The applications of mHealth make doctors more resourceful because they dont have to be in the physical presence of a patient to judge his or her condition. M-health technology allows people to overcome the limitations of geography in healthcare and access information at a distance.

In Pakistan, m-health applications can be designed as an integral part of the overall health system, and policymakers are in a unique position to shape these efforts. One of the most important roles to play in this regard is in driving innovation through incentives. Incentives can include tax rebates to telecom providers for provision of m-health services, and funding for universities and researchers studying m-health solutions. Only by thinking big, and acting immediately, mHealth can make a meaningful contribution to achieving health related MDGs by the 2015 deadline.

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