Exploring the Role of Mobile Technology as a Health Care Helper

In rural areas of the developing world, mobile telephones are helping people connect with health care providers in major cities. For instance, today a woman in Uganda having a difficult childbirth can get help from a physician in Kampala, contact a community health worker, or even secure transportation to a hospital.

"Now, a phone call can compress the time that it would have taken before to come to that decision point and get the woman care more often and quickly," said Dr. Alain Labrique, a professor of international health and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

JHU's Global mHealth Initiative is evaluating the role of mobile technology for care in 51 projects involving 120 students and more than 60 faculty members. Next March, JHU's Bloomberg School of Public Health will start two courses on using these technologies in the field.

"There's a lot of excitement among faculty, but there's 10 times as much excitement coming from students," Labrique said. "What mobile technologies are doing is changing the way that we see global health in terms of our ability to impact populations, to collect data in real time, to develop real strategies, to impact public health that we hadn't thought of before."

JHU's Dr. Larry Chang, who studied HIV/AIDS and technology in Uganda, and Labrique both agree on the need to rigorously evaluate the potential of such tools. In addition, greater patient access to care would require a larger capacity to absorb the extra workload, such as more health workers, Labrique said.