mHealth is a component of the eHealth sector where healthcare practices are supported by mobile devices such as mobile phones, personal digital assistants, patient monitoring devices, and a variety of other wireless devices. mHealth practices involve the use of a mobile phone’s core facilities of voice calling and messaging, as well as more complex applications and functionalities such as GPRS (general packet radio service), GPS (global positioning system), advanced mobile telecommunications such as 3G and 4G systems, and communication modes such as Bluetooth, Infrared, etc.
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The potential of mHealth facilities is changing the way healthcare is delivered, even in the remotest locations across the globe where there might not be an electric grid but has a mobile cellular network. Therefore, mHealth is garnering a lot of interest from government bodies as well as healthcare authorities such as the WHO. Governments are promoting mHealth initiatives as a complementary course of action for strengthening healthcare systems in low- and middle-income countries. A large part of today’s global population, being an avid user of mobile devices, is also adopting mHealth services at a rapid pace.
A report published by Transparency Market Research states that the global mHealth market will expand at a 23.9% CAGR between 2014 and 2020, rising from a valuation of US$5.79 bn in 2013 to US$23.39 bn by 2020.
mHealth is Changing the Way Healthcare is Delivered
Only 7-8 years ago, nobody would have imagined that today women in remote and economically deprived sub-Saharan Africa could use mobile phones to access health-related information critical for purposes as significant as bringing their pregnancy safely to terms. Mobiles have now become the most widely used means of communication in the world. The use of mobile phones and mobile networks is multiplying at an exponential rate, especially in developing countries. This expansion has presented unprecedented opportunities for the use of mobile technology for healthcare purposes. Analysts suggest that the integration of mobile and wireless technologies in the healthcare industry for supporting a variety of healthcare objectives (mHealth) can transform the way health services are delivered across the globe.
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WHO Encourages Proliferation of mHealth Technology
A number of factors are driving this change, including the rapid advancements in mobile applications and technologies, the continued rise in the coverage of mobile networks, and a rise in the set of opportunities for integrating the concepts of mobile health into current eHealth services. According to statistics published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2011there were over 5 bn wireless subscribers, with over 70% of them residing in low- and middle-income countries. By 2013, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions had increased to 6.8 bn, almost as many as the number of people in the world.
Looking into the omnipresence of mobiles and their potential of changing the face of healthcare delivery, the WHO’s Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe) conducted a survey to determine the status of mHealth in member countries. In its global survey of 2009, a section specifically dedicated to mHealth was included wherein four aspects of mHealth, including the adoption of mHealth initiatives, barriers to implementation of mHealth initiatives, types of initiatives, and status of evaluation of mHealth facilities, were analyzed and documented for all the 114 Member States. This was the first time an authoritative healthcare body like the WHO had sought to understand the impact of intervention of mobile technology in healthcare systems, a factor enough to understand the rising importance of the field.