mHealth holds potential to aid pregnant women, newborns worldwide

The increasing availability of wireless service and mobile phones is helping healthcare efforts relating to pregnant women and newborns by improving data collection and response systems, according to a recent research viewpoint post published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to authors Smisha Agarwal and Alain Labrique, Ph.D, both of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, such tools boast the potential to improve the fate of 7.6 million children under the age of 5 who die each year around the world.

"M-health strategies may have the potential to improve neonatal survival by catalyzing and improving the delivery of interventions of known efficacy, improving access to information and modifying demand for quality services, and enabling the provision of targeted care, where and when these benefits are needed the most," Agarwal and Labrique write.

The latest mHealth research overview comes on the heels of a recent study reporting that two in five physicians believe using mobile technology for communicating with patients can boost treatment outcomes, and just as many have increased mobile use for that reason in the past year.

Forty percent of child deaths occur within the neonatal period in the 75 countries with the highest incidences of child deaths, and pre-term birth complications are the top cause of neonatal mortality worldwide, according to Agarwal and Labrique. Many mHealth research and pilot efforts are underway, they write, aimed at boosting the efficiency and quality of care for patients, clinicians and health systems overall.

One involves an open source data management platform used by UNICEF to track and monitor pregnancies in Rwanda. Initial results report a 27 percent increase of babies being delivered in healthcare settings because the platform allowed medical staff to respond more quickly to emergencies, according to Agarwal and Labrique.

Such anecdotal evidence of mHealth-related improvements is a good start, note the authors.

As FierceMobileHealthcare recently reported, a program developed by University of British Columbia researchers aims to provide pregnant women living in rural locations with needed prenatal care through text messaging. The texts will inform women about options and resources in their community, and encourage discussion of issues and options in pregnancy with care providers.

And a year-long evaluation publicized last May of text4baby, a free mobile information service designed to promote maternal and child health through text messaging, found the program to be effective. The findings were based on a survey developed by researchers from the National Latino Research Center at California State University San Marcos and the University of California San Diego, with support from the Alliance Healthcare Foundation, which was administered to 631 unique text4baby users in San Diego. 

For more information:
- read the full JAMA viewpoint

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