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Can U.S. Mobile Health Efforts Survive the Wonks and Skeptics?

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, November 9, 2010

Health workers around the world are using mobile devices and wireless technologies to track infectious diseases, conduct research, treat patients, and bring access to modern healthcare to patients in developing nations, remote regions, and rural villages in ways never before possible. So what's keeping the U.S. from doing the same?

Bureaucrats who won't invest in unproven programs, policy wonks who fret about lack of regulation, and a widespread skepticism and lack of understanding of the benefits of mHealth, for starters, according to an international panel of experts and government officials at the mHealth Summit in Washington, DC, this week.

"American doctors don't know anything about mHealth," said K. Ganapathy, PhD, president of the Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation in India. And while that might be a bit of an overstatement, the general consensus among panel members is that if the U.S. wants to catch up with the rest of the world, it had better start paying better attention to mHealth—and building upon some of the many pilot programs taking place in other countries.

"To some extent it's true that scaling up is an important part but I think we've got a long way to go," said David Gustafson, PhD, director of the center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Like search results on the Internet, there are still an overwhelming number of health applications for patients and clinicians to choose from with no good way to determine which ones are helpful—and no guarantee they won't actually be harmful. Interfaces and devices are not always user-friendly, especially for older patients who might have trouble seeing small cell phone screens or punching tiny cell phone buttons, he added.

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