How mHealth (mobile health) is Improving Maternal and Child Health Outcomes

Rohit MA, Managing Director, Cloudnine Hospitals | Monday, 08 August 2016, 10:36 IST

We are now entering an era of connected health in which digital technologies including mobile health technologies (mHealth) are making the process of providing care more efficient, solving some of the challenges facing healthcare and improving clinical outcomes worldwide. Today, healthcare providers are using mobile health technologies to access clinical information, collaborate with teams, communicate with patients and peers, monitor patients in real-time and provide health care remotely. At the same time, patients are using mobile health technologies to track their own health, access their medical records and communicate with their healthcare providers .

In maternal and child health specifically, mobile technology has made it so much easier for women to manage their pregnancies. There are a host of applications that allow women to track their ovulation cycles, track their baby’s growth milestones, calculate due dates, set appointment reminders, receive health tips and access information on nearly all aspects of pregnancy and child birth like nutrition, prenatal and postnatal classes, medications and breastfeeding, to name a few. There are also apps through which you can directly send a message to a doctor or a pregnancy expert and have your queries addressed without having to physically go and see your provider.

mHealth has also made it possible to reach vulnerable women living in inaccessible and underserved areas who were earlier difficult to reach. It is a simple, low-cost solution to deliver important health messages, evaluate and monitor quality of services provided at the primary healthcare level and improve reporting mechanisms. This is especially important in a country like India where maternal, newborn and child mortality is so high.

Frontline workers (FLWs) like ASHAs, Anganwadi workers and auxiliary nurse midwives are being trained to use mHealth to monitor the nutritional status of women and children. The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) is a public-private partnership that delivers vital health messages to new and expectant mothers in developing countries via their mobile phones. Under BBC Media Action’s Kilkari project (part of the Ananya program), a mobile voice message service delivers weekly messages to families in Bihar about pregnancy, family planning, nutrition, childbirth and maternal and child care.  Continuum of Care Services (CCS) is a collaborative effort of CARE India, Dimagi, and Grameen Foundation under which FLWs use mobile applications to monitor patients during the critical 1000-day window from the beginning of pregnancy through the child’s second year of age and deliver messages according to the needs in different stage of pregnancy, delivery, post-delivery and newborn care.

Mobile and internet penetration is burgeoning in India. The number of people who own mobile phones here is greater than the number who own personal computers. In 2013, there were 525 million mobile phone users in the country and this figure is expected to rise to 813 million by 2019. With the set-up of the government’s digital infrastructure to facilitate adoption of mobile internet, decreasing handset prices and affordable data tariff plans, the growth of mobile internet is expected to increase over the next four to five years.

While the exponential growth of mHealth is transforming healthcare, its full potential has not yet been realized. According to WHO’s second global survey on eHealth, in the South East Asian region, the top four barriers to mHealth implementation were lack of eHealth policies and legislation, lack of knowledge concerning the possible applications of mHealth, lack of technical expertise and high operating costs. We have now been presented with an opportunity to overcome these barriers in the implementation of mHealth and ensure that its benefits reach all those in need.

IOT (internet of things) will further strengthen and revolutionize the capabilities and possibilities on mhealth platforms. We are already witnessing a staggered change in consumer behavior especially from clinicians in increased adoptions rates across specialties, which will enable better delivery of information through mhealth initiatives. The adoption rates are significantly better in developed countries where there is increased precedence on standardization of medical notes, electronic health records, protocols and procedures and India with a lot of standardization imminent in the form HL7, SNOMED and related measures, the impact and outcome on mhealth opportunities will continue to grow and improve.

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