New lifeline for the poor and underprivileged arrives via mobile health

Because of White House involvement, Text4baby is probably the most high-profile example of mobile health. Its success is likely to give more attention to a health information technology approach that has been in development for at least three years and is on the cusp of expanded federal regulation.

When the White House and a coalition of health groups for mothers recently looked at ways to improve care for at-risk expectant mothers, their technology of choice was the cell phone. A high percentage of the targeted groups have access to mobile devices.

The Text4baby initiative sends free text messages with medical tips and reminders three times a week to pregnant women and young mothers.

“By using text messaging on cell phones, this partnership uses a technology that has already been widely adopted,” Aneesh Chopra, the White House chief technology officer, said in announcing the program Feb. 4. “Research shows that 90 percent of Americans have a mobile phone.”

Because of White House involvement, Text4baby is probably the most high-profile example of mobile health, known as MHealth. The program's success will likely bring more attention to a health information technology approach that has been in development for at least three years and is on the cusp of expanded federal regulation.

The MHealth buzzword is just starting to gain wider use. The industry is still in the embryonic stages, and its contours are not fully delineated. Although growing rapidly, it is drawing the attention of federal regulators. And that could alter its path of expansion and innovation.

MHealth is defined loosely as the use of mobile devices and wireless networks for the purpose of delivering health care or health-related information. Although some view it as a subcategory of telehealth, others note that telehealth has a long history with wired networks. MHealth is new and centers on wireless devices, mainly cell phones and smart phones.

One reason for the excitement about MHealth is its ability to quickly reach poor, developing countries and areas where Internet access is sparse but many residents have cell phones. Nearly 4 billion people worldwide had cell phones in 2008, according to an industry association.

The nonprofit Core Group is giving cell phones to community health workers in Malawi and Cameroon for use in maternal and child health care. A health worker can use the cell phone to contact medical help if a woman experiences an emergency during childbirth. “It is a simple application that is lifesaving,” said Ann Hendrix-Jenkins, Core’s partnership development director.

In the United States, more than 10,000 women have signed up for Text4baby since it started in February. It is sponsored by the National Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition, along with the White House, Health and Human Services Department, and health and telecommunications industry members.

Other popular MHealth applications in the Unites States include mobile personal health devices, such as blood pressure cuffs, that users can link to cell phones to transmit results. Text messaging can be used for lab results, prescription ordering and communication with physicians.

“I think MHealth will be big for systems that empower patients,” said Dr. Ted Eytan, a health IT blogger and medical director for delivery system operations improvement at the Permanente Federation.

Eytan is not alone in his optimism. The past year has seen the formation of the nonprofit MHealth Initiative and the United Nations Foundation’s MHealth Alliance. In February, the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm estimated global MHealth opportunities to be worth about $50 billion, including $20 billion in the United States.

Regulatory Target

The pace of MHealth innovation in recent months has reached a frenzy. In the next phase, growth might be slower but more realistic. That's because the Food and Drug Administration has started working with industry groups, including the Continua Health Alliance, to prepare a regulatory framework expected to cover many MHealth devices.

Will cell phones be regulated as medical devices? Chuck Parker, Continua executive director, said he doesn’t think so. “It goes to the intended use,” Parker said. If a cell phone is sold as a means of communication and it happens to be used for medical applications, that does not make it a medical device, he said.

Beyond cell phones, FDA is looking to network mobile medical devices, Parker added. “There is a creation of new devices we have not seen before. It is a system of systems, with four to five components to create a new medical use.”

Bradley Merrill Thompson, health care attorney at Epstein Becker Green, said MHealth companies should anticipate that FDA will expand its role. “It is health care, and people should not be surprised to see regulation,” he said.

But more rules could have a chilling effect on innovation, he added. “I expect FDA will discourage it some. There is a cost to complying with the FDA.”

Although Text4baby and Core Group are demonstrating quick gains in simple applications of MHealth, the future path is less certain. The next phase will be interesting to watch.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.