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Alumni Dispatches

A Turning Point for mHealth

Patricia N. Mechael, PhD, MHS ’98

Patricia Mechael  During my 10 years in the mobile health (mHealth) field, the number of mobile phones around the world has skyrocketed, with nearly as many subscriptions as people on this planet. Since I first began to study the informal use of mobile technologies for health in Egypt in 2002, the field of mHealth has largely been driven by technologists and technologies in search of problems. But technology for technology’s sake does not position the health sector for the game-changing developments mHealth can bring, developments that seek to provide solutions.

Recently there has been a shift in the health sector to make mobile technologies for health a priority and leverage their uses more effectively. Unfortunately the introduction of mobile technologies into the health system involves much more than simply distributing a bunch of cell phones to health workers.

Fast forward 10 years, and we are now at a critical turning point in mHealth as the health sector dives into what appears to be a complex pool of players and issues. The next steps in this process will have to engage the mHealth ecosystem of governments, academics, technologists, health professionals, and private industry to work collectively to most effectively leverage these tools to align with pressing health priorities.

The time has come for the health sector to take a prominent leadership role so that the mHealth puzzle pieces can be put in place to make better use of the billions of mobile phones and other mobile technologies being accessed by citizens and health workers alike throughout the world. As my friend and colleague, Heather Zornetzer, once said, “M is only one letter in mHealth, while health is six letters.” So despite how brilliant your new phone app may be, let’s not allow the appeal of technology overshadow the goals we share in order to achieve lasting impacts on people’s health.

Patricia Mechael recently was awarded the Johns Hopkins University, Knowledge for the World Award. She currently serves as Executive Director of the mHealth Alliance.

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