Mobile Phones Revolutionizing Healthcare


Mobile phones have become an integral part of our lives, and their impact on various industries cannot be underestimated. In recent years, mobile phones have emerged as a powerful tool in transforming the healthcare sector. With over 5.3 billion cell phone users worldwide and 90 percent of the global population covered by a commercial wireless signal, mobile phones have the potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery and improve health outcomes. This article explores how mobile phones, also known as mHealth, are transforming healthcare and discusses the challenges and opportunities associated with this digital revolution.

The Power of Mobile Digital Technology in Healthcare

In a world with limited healthcare resources, mobile digital technology has the potential to be a game-changer. It empowers both patients and healthcare practitioners by providing them with the information they need to make informed decisions about health issues. Mobile phones can facilitate access to health services, promote healthy living habits, and enable the monitoring and management of diseases. The rapid expansion of wireless networks has opened up exciting opportunities to reach those who are currently isolated by distance and lack of communication.

“We now have a pathway to reach the unreached, and to deliver health services where people are, not merely in health facilities.” – David Aylward

Modern information and communication technologies (ICT) have already transformed various economic sectors, and healthcare is no exception. Wireless technology, with its ability to penetrate even the most remote and resource-poor environments, is driving the collection of health data, supporting diagnosis and treatment, and advancing education and research. However, there are several challenges that need to be addressed to fully leverage the potential of mobile phones in healthcare.

The Challenge of Public-Private Involvement

One of the key challenges is determining the proper mix of public and private involvement in mHealth initiatives. While there is a high level of interest in leveraging mobile technology for healthcare, most private sector support for mHealth is still limited to charity. There is a need to develop sustainable business models that will support real public-private partnerships in the deployment and maintenance of mHealth systems.

“It is not yet clear how the industry will make money on it.” – David Aylward

Some mHealth business models have emerged where there is a single buyer for a specific problem solution. For example, Sproxil has found pharmaceutical buyers for its anti-drug counterfeiting service. By allowing individuals to determine the legitimacy of a drug through a simple SMS message, Sproxil ensures brand protection and creates a viable business model. However, the real power of mHealth lies in supporting integrated health systems involving multiple public and private parties offering diverse services and products. Developing clear value chains and business models for these multi-problem, multi-actor systems is a crucial step in leveraging the full potential of mobile phones in healthcare.

The Potential of Mobile Phones in Healthcare

While the business models for mHealth are still evolving, there is a strong belief that offering an array of health services via wireless technology will drive up sales and usage. This, in turn, can lead to increased sales of more sophisticated handsets and networks. However, the specific array of services that will drive this growth has yet to be fully defined and measured. Several propositions need to be tested at scale to determine their viability:

  1. Will offering smart phones to front-line health workers pay for itself in increased sales to others?
  2. Will hosting an electronic health record and package of health applications for maternal and newborn care justify itself in higher female subscriptions?
  3. Will lower data rates for health workers be justified by sparking higher overall demand?

These questions highlight the need for rigorous testing and evaluation to understand the potential impact and sustainability of mHealth initiatives.

The Role of the Wireless Industry in mHealth

The wireless industry has a significant role to play in the adoption and success of mHealth initiatives. In the early days of the US wireless industry, emergency 9-1-1 calls were offered for free, which contributed to its growth. Similarly, the wireless industry has the opportunity to leverage mHealth, especially in emerging markets, to not only drive its own interests but also contribute to improving healthcare access and outcomes. However, it is essential to recognize that the industry cannot deliver mHealth on its own, and a collaborative approach involving multiple stakeholders is necessary.

“Understanding how much the industry can and will do in its own interests is an important part of the puzzle.” – David Aylward


Mobile phones have the potential to transform healthcare by providing access to health services, empowering patients and healthcare practitioners, and improving health outcomes. The widespread use of mobile phones and the expansion of wireless networks offer opportunities to reach those who are currently underserved. However, to fully leverage the potential of mobile phones in healthcare, there is a need for innovative business models, public-private partnerships, and rigorous testing of mHealth initiatives. The wireless industry, in collaboration with other stakeholders, can play a crucial role in driving this digital revolution and improving healthcare access and delivery globally.

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