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Helpdesk Query:

What information is available from developing countries on the promotion of use of mobile phones (and telemedicine) by the government or NGOs, to improve communications and referrals from lower tier health workers (such as SBAs and multipurpose workers) to higher level health workers such as medical doctors in the periphery and district. Please can evidence be provided about increased consultations and improvement in performance indicators as a result of these schemes.


mHealth refers to medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices.  Mobile phones and internet technology are being used in developing countries for health projects with some success. The bulk of the literature is on phones being used for workers to communicate with
patients and for reporting and surveillance, rather than for communication between health workers. There is more information on health workers using technology for accessing medical information and for training.

This report includes information on:

  • Literature on the use of mobiles for communication between health workers
  • General research on the use of mobile phones for health in development
  • A selection of recent evidence of mobile phones improving performance

Projects are still relatively new so many research papers conclude that there is little evidence and that more is needed. Key findings include:

  • 1,043 referrals transmitted over 18 months through the Multimedia Super Corridor Project in Malaysia.
  • Over 300 referrals received from 44 doctors in remote areas during a 6-month period through an SMS telemedicine project in the Philippines.
  • One report found personal digital assistants (PDAs) had positively impacted on different areas of hospital physicians work.

There are also reports on a range of mhealth projects, which show some common problems and lessons. For example:

  • Problems with telemedicine projects arise where people are not comfortable with the technology or have not been trained sufficiently.
  • Lack of government support.
  • For success, technological solution must enhance existing human relationships that have been established through conventional routes or as a solution to a long-felt community need.


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