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What is mobile health technology?

Mobile health technology, or mhealth, is a rapidly developing factor in health care today, promising to make health care better and more efficient. According to a recent survey, 83 percent of physicians in the U.S. already use mobile health technology or mhealth to provide patient care.1

Because this is such a new and changing field, there is no set definition for mobile health technology or mhealth. The World Health Organization says we can think of it as “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices.” In other words, mobile health technology is the use of smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices to deliver health care and preventive health services.

But, beyond formal definitions and theory, where does mhealth come into practice? Health care providers use mobile health technology to:

  • Access clinical information (e.g., through mobile health apps and mobile-enabled EHRs),
  • Collaborate with care teams (e.g., with secure text messaging),
  • Communicate with patients (e.g., through patient portals),
  • Offer real-time monitoring of patients, and
  • Provide health care remotely, also called telemedicine.

Patients use mobile health technology to:

  • Track their own health data through mhealth apps and devices like the Fitbit®,
  • Access their clinical records through mobile-enabled patient portals, and
  • Communicate with their providers (e.g., through HIPAA compliant e-mail and secure text messaging).

Mobile health technology is also an important tool in improving the health of patients in underdeveloped nations. In 2011, 70% of the world’s five billion mobile wireless subscribers were in low- or middle-income countries. Mobile health technology allows government health officials to extend their reach into rural or impoverished areas. In fact, 83% of the 112 member states of the World Health Organization have at least one mHealth initiative in their country.2

Despite the promise and widespread use of mobile health technology, health care leaders need solutions for a number of unique challenges. These challenges include protecting the privacy of patient information shared on mobile devices, ensuring the interoperability of mobile health technology with EHRs and other health technology, and determining which mHealth apps are safest and most effective.

1HIMSS Analytics. (February 2014) 3rd Annual HIMSS Analytics Mobile Survey.
2mHealth: New horizons for health through mobile technologies. World Health Organization. Available here

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