Atanu Garai outlines 7 factors for designing successful global mHealth projects that can vastly improve healthcare delivery in developing regions.
1. mHealth is not mass media
Many organizations are still disseminating SMS or calls in the way that television and radio broadcast their content. This process essentially entails partnering with a mobile service provider or third-party SMS gateway to disseminate SMS or calls to all the numbers registered with the mobile operator. For health campaigns, bombarding the population with SMS or calls works as advertisements and this method works best for a limited number of audiences with a high degree of interest in the advertised product.
2. Deliver multiple services through mHealth
Many health managers think of mHealth as yet another tool for data collection and communication about health behavior. They can hardly be faulted for this biased perception as many mHealth projects have concentrated only on those two aspects. However, mHealth has the potential to provide instruction and guidance to steer the patients toward attaining certain behavioral goals. In doing so, mHealth can provide guidance to access and utilize health services.
3. Evolve business models for curative and preventive health
Program managers are increasingly looking for ways to ensure financial sustainability, both in profitmaking and not-for-profit projects. While most mHealth projects do seem to be financially sustainable in the medium- to long-term, financial and other constraints mean that beneficiaries may be less likely to pay for SMS or phone calls that aim to promote healthy behaviors. This means projects targeting preventive health segments may not be able to charge their customers for services, making financial sustainability problematic.
4. Consider mobile data collection as the means to an end
Until now, most mHealth projects have focused on data collection. Of course, data collection projects helped demonstrate the efficacy of mobile devices as instruments for data collection with fewer errors and lower cost. But, once the data is collected and stored, it does not—in and of itself— acts as a trigger for action among the intended stakeholders.
5. Partial automation deters mHealth adoption in the health system
Donors ask for mHealth projects that work in a health issue of their choice. Examples include child vaccination and conditional cash transfer, among others. Partial automation is automating a tiny component of the service delivery— such as one polio vaccination out of five vaccines for children.
6. mHealth is integrative
mHealth techonlogies have the capacity to integrate otherwise disparate functions or processes within the traditional health system. For example, traditional Web-based health information systems, which collect routine service delivery data, can be used for monitoring and supervision of health workers on the ground, for evaluating their performance, and for incentivizing use.
7. mHealth is multidisclinpinary
mHealth is multidiscinplinary by nature that integrates various domains within the health sector allowing collaboration from diverse disciplines to develop products and services. In the case of maternal and child health, for example, medical doctors can help computer programmers in defining algorithms for developing decisions based on datasets on beneficiaries.
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About Atanu Garai
Atanu Garai designs systems for improving rural employment service and public food distribution in the Indian state of Odisha as part of the Odisha Modernizing Economy, Government and Administration program. He advises leading organizations across the globe on the design and implementation of ICTs in the health sector.