Mobile health applications have become a permanent fixture in the lives of patients and clinicians who use this technology to monitor health, behaviors, and treatment outcomes, according to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Prior to the advent of mobile health applications, medium- and large-sized organizations sent health information to subscribers via one-way mobile text messages. Amira Roess, MD, MPH, from George Washington University in Washington, DC, notes that this method of disseminating pertinent health-related information to the public resulted in little conclusive evidence supporting its efficacy for improving health outcomes.

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There are currently more than 1200 health applications aimed at collecting, analyzing, and reporting health data in addition to those that deliver health information to patients and consumers. Some applications focus on tracking daily activity, caloric intake, and even breastfeeding patterns. Many applications are beginning to be studied in clinical trials.

In addition to tracking health behaviors and outcomes, many hospitals are using these mobile applications to update electronic medical records. Providers are also increasingly using electronic tablets to enter and retrieve patient data, thereby creating a more efficient process for updating patients’ medical records. Mobile health applications may even improve access to point-of-care diagnostics.

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Although mobile health applications show promise, the current use of this technology in low-income countries is lacking. In these countries, many family members share mobile phones, reducing the likelihood that health data can be tracked for each individual reliably.

Dr Roess suggests that an “interdisciplinary approach involving engineers, healthcare professionals, economists, telecommunication professionals, and scientists is needed” to improve and realize the full potential of mobile health applications.”


Roess A. The promise, growth, and reality of mobile health — another data-free zone [published online November 8, 2017]. N Engl J Med. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1713180