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

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, November 9, 2010

And he agrees that the U.S. healthcare system and healthcare consumers still haven't embraced mHealth and don't necessarily understand its potential benefits. "Right now there is skepticism except for a few enthusiasts like us," he said.

The world doesn't have time for large, randomized control trials that could take years to show whether mHealth can improve outcomes and further stall implementation, panelists said.

But governments will be reluctant to invest in mHealth technologies without that kind of data. The problem is compounded by the lack of awareness of potential for mHealth among bureaucrats and other stakeholders, said Ganapathy.

Public-private partnerships and commercial ventures could help speed things along. "In my country we are in a position to make mHealth private," said Mwendwa Mwenesi, MD, who coordinates the Phones for Health program for Tanzania's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. "We are seeing that is the only way we can move forward."

"India is very open to public-private partnerships and this is a reality—not just a slogan," said Ganapathy.  But Gustafson said the U.S., at least, should proceed with caution. "I don't think we can just turn it over to the private sectors and say 'Go for it,'" he said.

Another solution is to publicize the many mHealth success stories, said Allen Wade Hightower, chief of data management activity at the Centers for Disease Control's Center for Global Health. The task ahead, he said, is to win the confidence of senior management at agencies such as CDC. "Once they see that this technology is working and helping them do more with fewer resources, they'll buy into it," he said.

And, he added, forums such as this one, which organizers said attracted about 2,400 registered attendees from nearly 50 countries, is one way to do just that.

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