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Global Health. 2006 May 23;2:9.

Can the ubiquitous power of mobile phones be used to improve health outcomes in developing countries?

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1
Center for International Health and Development, Boston University School of Public Health, 85 E, Concord Street, Boston, MA 02118, USA. wak@bu.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The ongoing policy debate about the value of communications technology in promoting development objectives is diverse. Some view computer/web/phone communications technology as insufficient to solve development problems while others view communications technology as assisting all sections of the population. This paper looks at evidence to support or refute the idea that fixed and mobile telephones is, or could be, an effective healthcare intervention in developing countries.

METHODS:

A Web-based and library database search was undertaken including the following databases: MEDLINE, CINAHL, (nursing & allied health), Evidence Based Medicine (EBM), POPLINE, BIOSIS, and Web of Science, AIDSearch (MEDLINE AIDS/HIV Subset, AIDSTRIALS & AIDSDRUGS) databases.

RESULTS:

Evidence can be found to both support and refute the proposition that fixed and mobile telephones is, or could be, an effective healthcare intervention in developing countries. It is difficult to generalize because of the different outcome measurements and the small number of controlled studies. There is almost no literature on using mobile telephones as a healthcare intervention for HIV, TB, malaria, and chronic conditions in developing countries. Clinical outcomes are rarely measured. Convincing evidence regarding the overall cost-effectiveness of mobile phone " telemedicine" is still limited and good-quality studies are rare. Evidence of the cost effectiveness of such interventions to improve adherence to medicines is also quite weak.

CONCLUSION:

The developed world model of personal ownership of a phone may not be appropriate to the developing world in which shared mobile telephone use is important. Sharing may be a serious drawback to use of mobile telephones as a healthcare intervention in terms of stigma and privacy, but its magnitude is unknown. One advantage, however, of telephones with respect to adherence to medicine in chronic care models is its ability to create a multi-way interaction between patient and provider(s) and thus facilitate the dynamic nature of this relationship. Regulatory reforms required for proper operation of basic and value-added telecommunications services are a priority if mobile telecommunications are to be used for healthcare initiatives.

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