Key findings: There is significant potential for the use of mobile telephony to improve health service outcomes and data management. Opportunities include: serving as a less costly substitute for existing interventions; providing interactive functions that multiply the power of existing interventions; and serving entirely new functions. Countries recovering from conflicts and reinstating key functions of state administration can benefit from the utilisation of information and communications technology (ICT), which allows for more quick and efficient service delivery to citizens (Virhiä, 2010).
Significant areas in which mobile technology is being applied to health services include the following.
- Information management, including patient tracking and record keeping. Data standards and interoperable platforms are important to ease the flow of information. The adoption of unique health identifiers monitored by electronic devices can promote better coordination across health systems and enable improved epidemiological profiles. Developing a culture of data and information using designers to develop creative systems is recommended.
- Drug distribution: using mobiles to reduce stock-outs of drug supplies. SMS text messaging has proved to be useful for this, as shown in the examples of mTrac in Uganda and the SMS for Life project in Tanzania.
- Human resource management: connecting community-based health workers to medical advice, guidelines and training.