Sexual and reproductive health

Prioritizing integrated mHealth strategies for universal health coverage

Use of mobile technology for health (mHealth)

photo of mother and baby with health worker using mobile phone
Photo: Mark Leong, HRP

The use of mHealth has emerged as an important innovation with tremendous potential to strengthen health systems in low- and middle-income settings, through improved access to knowledge and information, by improving service delivery and reducing response time to crises.

A new article, authored by WHO and Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative on prioritizing mHealth strategies for universal health coverage has been published in Science. The article, drawing from seminal work in health systems analysis, presents a novel framework for visualizing and planning how mHealth innovations can be applied to help surmount common and persistent constraints along the pathways toward the achievement of universal health coverage. It responds to the need for a framework to help prioritize investments and opportunities for collaboration, in the context of a growing interest in use of telecommunications technologies to help scale up and integrate public health interventions of known efficacy.

Several hundred randomized trials are currently under way around the world, measuring the efficacy of mHealth strategies. However, most of these innovations address single problems faced by health systems. A framework to help prioritize investments and opportunities for collaboration has been absent. Knowing who is in need of services, having the necessary human resources and commodities in adequate supply, and connecting these together at the right time and place are elements critical to success. The model proposed seeks to illustrate where digital investments can have the greatest impact toward the achievement of universal health coverage. The article looks at a number of areas that could particularly benefit from such a framework including improving digital reporting that could be shared across civil registration and health services; improving supply services both for the client and the health sector; increasing demand and access; improving quality of services and helping with financing mechanisms to access health care.

The article recognizes that horizontal solutions are seldom easy to develop or adopt, especially in the public sector but argues that such frameworks can help governments set realistic expectations and help prioritize investments across critical health system layers. The authors also make the case that such a framework will encourage donors to invest in less vertical and more comprehensive approaches with real potential for scale. Such guidance can help ensure that investments prioritize integrated mHealth strategies for addressing multiple gaps in the pathway to UHC, improving performance in the quality, cost, and coverage necessary to provide care to all in need.