mHealth is short for mobile health, a growing field that takes advantage of mobile communications devices—mostly cell phones—to enhance access to health information, improve distribution of routine and emergency health services or provide diagnostic services. With phones and other mobile technologies growing more ubiquitous by the minute, it was only a matter of time before public health researchers, practitioners and users took advantage of these media themselves. At the Bloomberg School, up-and-running mHealth projects range from saving the lives of pregnant women and babies in Bangladesh to assessing drug-use patterns in inner-city Baltimore.
But using phones to advance public health isn’t as simple as it seems. Researchers are grappling with complex questions that have already doomed hundreds of mHealth projects: How do you know whether mHealth projects are really working and worth the investment? How do you conquer the phenomenon known as “pilotitis” and scale effective strategies into health systems that have regional or national impacts? And how do you make sure these projects are long-lasting additions, instead of the public health equivalent of a dropped call?
With a new University-wide project called the Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative, assistant professor Alain Labrique, PhD, MHS, MS, his faculty colleagues and students from across Johns Hopkins are coming together to face these questions while building a new community—one that embraces evolving technology as a game-changer with the potential of revolutionizing health. Their mission is to develop responsive innovations and provide rigorous, evidence-based support for mobile information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve global health, focusing on resource-limited settings where the global burden of disease and mortality are highest. Their focus is on technology that is appropriate and scalable.