The use of mobile communication technology has been shown to improve access to health services and medical information, but two systematic reviews published in PLoS Medicine indicate a lack of evidence that mHealth is an effective solution to health challenges in the developing world.

Photo by kiwanja on Flickr, Creative Commons licenseThe majority of studies on mHealth effectiveness are conducted in industrialized countries and may not apply to low- and middle-income countries. According to the systematic reviews, three out of 75 trials that aimed to assess whether mobile technology interventions could improve health behavior or disease management were from developing countries.

Previous studies in sub-Saharan Africa have found mobile phone text messaging to improve adherence to HIV treatment, while others have shown their failure to do so. The new reviews found that for disease management, the only two mHealth applications with sufficient evidence of benefit are ones related to adherence to antiretroviral therapy and smoking cessation.

The reviews call for additional rigorous mHealth tests in low- and middle-income settings.

1. Free C, Phillips G, Galli L, et al. The Effectiveness of Mobile-Health Technology-Based Health Behaviour Change or Disease Management Interventions for Health Care Consumers: A Systematic Review. PLoS Medicine 2013; 10(1): e1001362. (open access)
2. Free C, Phillips G, Watson L, et al. The Effectiveness of Mobile-Health Technologies to Improve Health Care Service Delivery Processes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS Medicine 2013; 10(1): e1001363. (open access)
3. Tatalovic M. “Evidence lacking on mHealth effectiveness in poor countries.” SciDevNet: 15 Jan 2013.