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mHealth Programs Must Measure Health Outcomes

“Since a lot of health revolves around information, public health experts had high expectations for the mobile phone,” author and columnist Tina Rosenberg writes in the New York Times’ “Opinionator” blog, adding, “But roughly a decade after the start of mHealth, as the mobile health field has come to be known, these expectations are far from being met. The delivery system is there. But we don’t yet know what to deliver.” She continues, “In the vast majority of cases, if mHealth projects have been evaluated at all, they’ve been evaluated for feasibility … rather than impact on health,” and “[w]hen programs have tested health outcomes, the results have usually been dismal.” She discusses several studies and their outcomes.

However, “[i]t is too early to write off mHealth, a field that is still young,” Rosenberg states, adding, “And important lessons are emerging from the evidence already in.” She continues, “Success should mean better health outcomes — so that is what programs need to measure. Virtually every project that has been able to grow has included lots of different partners, including the government and the private sector — mobile phone providers, for example.” She discusses one successful project in Zambia and Malawi that has relied on simplicity and including users in the design process. Rosenberg adds, “The moral of this story is perhaps the single most important lesson in mHealth: the technology is the easy part. An mHealth project is just as complicated as any other health project, just with a phone attached” (3/13).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.