Yearb Med Inform 2014; 23(01): 182-194
DOI: 10.15265/IY-2014-0022
Original Article
Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart

Engaging Patients through Mobile Phones: Demonstrator Services, Success Factors, and Future Opportunities in Low and Middle-income Countries

A. Hartzler
1  The Information School, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
T. Wetter
2  Institute of Medical Biometry and Informatics, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany
3  Dept. of Biomedical Informatics and Medical Information, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
› Author Affiliations
Further Information

Publication History

15 August 2014

Publication Date:
05 March 2018 (online)



Objectives: Evolving technology and infrastructure can benefit patients even in the poorest countries through mobile health (mHealth). Yet, what makes mobile-phone-based services succeed in low and middle-income countries (LMIC) and what opportunities does the future hold that still need to be studied. We showcase demonstrator services that leverage mobile phones in the hands of patients to promote health and facilitate health care.

Methods: We surveyed the recent biomedical literature for demonstrator services that illustrate well-considered examples of mobile phone interventions for consumer health. We draw upon those examples to discuss enabling factors, scalability, reach, and potential of mHealth as well as obstacles in LMIC.

Results: Among the 227 articles returned by a PubMed search, we identified 55 articles that describe services targeting health consumers equipped with mobile phones. From those articles, we showcase 19 as demonstrator services across clinical care, prevention, infectious diseases, and population health. Services range from education, reminders, reporting, and peer support, to epidemiologic reporting, and care management with phone communication and messages. Key achievements include timely adherence to treatment and appointments, clinical effectiveness of treatment reminders, increased vaccination coverage and uptake of screening, and capacity for efficient disease surveillance. We discuss methodologies of delivery and evaluation of mobile-phone-based mHealth in LMIC, including service design, social context, and environmental factors to success.

Conclusion: Demonstrated promises using mobile phones in the poorest countries encourage a future in which IMIA takes a lead role in leveraging mHealth for citizen empowerment through Consumer Health Informatics.