As cell phones and other mobile devices become more ubiquitous, even in developing countries--reaching an average penetration rate of almost 50% in developing countries in 2008 (up from 0% in 1998), which is a much higher rate than computers--their utility as health care tools grows exponentially.
How does mobile technology play into global health?
In addition to simply being real-time communication tools with phone, e-mail, and text-messaging capabilities, many mobile devices can support a great variety of software applications (or apps) that can be used to assist health care providers during emergencies and where they work every day.
It might help to think about how you use mobile technology. You could...
- use text-messaging to plan a last-minute night out at the movies with your friends;
- take a photo of your latest fender bender and send it to your insurance agent;
- fill out an online form to order more photocopy paper from your office's supplier;
- check Google Maps to find the nearest coffee shop;
- use Blackboard to take a distance-learning course.
In the same way, health workers around the globe could coordinate a disaster relief operation, identify a new infection, order more antibiotics, report an instance of cholera, or get training on how to administer a new vaccine.
Mobile apps and other communication tools make these actions possible.
For instance, health care workers on the ground can use a mapping app to constantly update information regarding the spread of a disease outbreak and make that instantly available to organizations providing aid, to government officials in communities in the disease's path, and to the public who'll need to know what to watch out for and what precautions to take. Thus, supplies, human resources, and public service dispatches can be more quickly collected and distributed to where they are most needed.
Other apps can provide current medical information to health workers in remote regions, helping them to better diagnose and treat the populations in their care.
Similarly, apps can include training tools to keep health workers' skills up to date in areas where brick-and-mortar educational facilities don't exist.
And apps can also be used to record and monitor patient health information without workers having to carry copious, unwieldy paper files with them as they go about servicing multiple communities in an isolated region.
To read more about mobile health technology and initiatives, check out some of the links below.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Global Health Matters article on what mobile health is and how it can be used.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Mobile Health Coalition's homepage.
- United Nations MHealth for Development report.
- Presentations from the Mobile Health 2010 conference at Stanford.
- California Healthcare Foundation report on individuals' use of mobile technology for tracking and managing their personal health.
Find this article at