Great potential for mHealth, but rigorous research is needed

Almost two years after researchers gathered for an mHealth Evidence Workshop at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an article has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concluding that "rigorous research" is needed to examine the potential and challenges of using mobile technologies to improve health outcomes.

Acknowledging that evidence is "sparse" for the efficacy of mHealth, the article calls for research that is able to "assess when, where, and for whom mHealth devices, apps, and systems are efficacious." The article presents the results of an August 16, 2011 mHealth Evidence Workshop in which NIH, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and McKesson, gathered 50 researchers, policymakers, government and regulatory officials from around the world.

"This workshop endorsed the need for timely and increased efforts in mHealth research and for a new transdisciplinary scientific discipline incorporating medicine, engineering, psychology, public health, social science, and computer science," states the authors. "Training the next generation of mHealth scientists, a process recently begun via workshops sponsored by some of the workshop sponsors, will be essential if the health community is to realize the full measure of benefits from mHealth."

The article summarizes the workshop participants' discussion into opportunities and challenges in three areas of mHealth evidence generation where "unique issues are emerging." The three areas include evaluating assessments, evaluating interventions, and reshaping evidence generation using mHealth. The challenges, however, are daunting and according to the article mHealth could in fact be counterproductive.

"mHealth devices, apps, and systems may be ineffective or, at worst, yield adverse outcomes on the quality or cost outcomes of health," state the authors. "In a healthcare system already burdened with suboptimal outcomes and excessive costs, premature adoption of untested mHealth technologies may detract from, rather than contribute to, what is needed for true overall health improvement."

Despite the rapid growth and proliferation of mHealth over the past decade, a similar article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded that systematic research on the impact of new mobile technologies on health outcomes remains scarce.

To learn more:
- read the AJPM article