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The Role of mHealth During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Published 2021-10-18 06:50:06

 

Mobile Health, or mHealth is a rapidly evolving technology that utilises mobile devices (cellular devices, tablets, etc.) to improve patient health outcomes. According to a study published by the Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe), 83% of the 112 participating World Health Organisation (WHO) member states reported the presence of at least one mHealth initiative in their country, with the most frequently reported types of mHealth being health call centres and telephone helplines (59%), emergency toll-free telephone services (55%), and mobile tele-medicine (49%).1

Across the globe, health systems continue to explore innovative ways to integrate mHealth into patients' lives. The unprecedented spread of COVID-19 is one instance that has highlighted various benefits of mHealth for contact tracing, public education, and tracking. According to the most recent report from GSMA, there are 747 million SIM connections in sub-Saharan Africa, representing 75% of the population as of 2020.2

This widespread adoption of mobile technology, particularly in South Africa, has aided the effectiveness of the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS). The system has streamlined vaccination booking, tracking, and vaccine allocation by allowing public citizens to register for their vaccine appointments. After registration, the system captures their data and books them for vaccination at their nearest site, whereby follow-ups and linkage to post-vaccine treatment are also sent via SMS.

Additionally, daily screening apps have also played a significant role in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in schools and workplaces. Many schools and organisations have integrated mobile symptom tracking using self-screening apps that prompt users to complete surveys that assess their likelihood of being virus carriers. If the app does not permit clearance, public health practitioners can identify potential cases rapidly and refer individuals for testing.

Lynx-Virtual is a mobile-based self-screening app that gives users the ability to screen for COVID-19 from any iOS or Android device.

The widespread sweep of COVID-19 across the globe has created a butterfly effect that has not only affected businesses and public health but education systems as well. Since the arrival of COVID-19, various institutions and organisations have adopted remote learning platforms to continue professional development. COVID-19 has forced traditional face-to-face learning environments to evolve mainly because of exposure risks. Through mHealth and other electronic learning platforms, HCWs involved in COVID-19 care and vaccination programmes have been able to complete training remotely with access to video lectures, quizzes, interactive exercises and downloadable presentations from their web and mobile devices.

Qode Education is an online training and learning platform dedicated to providing health care professionals with a platform to continue professional development remotely.

Another area in which mHealth has seen massive success is wearable devices. The current issue that most physicians sit with is engaging their patients to monitor their health proactively. The arrival of wearable devices and their mHealth apps improve this by giving patients access to features such as heart rate tracking, refill reminders, and educational information that enhances treatment adherence. Data generated from these apps provide physicians with data-orientated insights that enable them to improve treatment plans. An example of this is wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) monitors. Portable ECGs measure and detect heart abnormalities without the need for patients to consult physically. With this innovation, doctors have been able to monitor heart health in real-time during lockdown.

Kardia Mobile is a pocket-sized ECG that detects atrial fibrillation, bradycardia, tachycardia, or normal heart rhythm in just 30 seconds.

The national lockdown has also fuelled telehealth adoption. In a broader sense, telehealth entails distributing health-related services virtually using mobile devices and desktops as a medium. Telehealth has made remote patient monitoring for adherence management easier. Now physicians can consult with patients via video conference call to monitor health status remotely without the need to consult in person. Telehealth has additionally proven to be an invaluable tool for patients who are in self-isolation or are unable to travel due to debilitating chronic conditions.

Lynx-HCF is a cloud-based software that features a fully functional electronic medical record and telehealth integration for remote virtual consultations.

The use of mHealth technology has also yielded advantages for point of care services. In the past, community health workers (CHWs) depended on manual data collection methods that were susceptible to human error, such as duplication, damage, or loss. With mHealth devices, CHWs have used digital tools to collect patient data electronically and improve service delivery in resource-limited settings. We are currently seeing mHealth technology in action at vaccination sites, where health workers are using tablets to collect information that syncs to the EVDS servers.

Lynx-Health is a mobile-based data collection system that collects patient data using Android compatible mobile and devices.

Despite the widespread use of mobile health technology, mHealth presents a unique set of challenges that could put patients at risk. The most concerning challenge involves data security, as health records are a commodity that store valuable information. With cyberattacks on the rise in the health care industry, patient data security and privacy are exposed to malicious attacks that could negatively impact health outcomes.

Nonetheless, the successful application of mHealth during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that it has the power to revolutionise patient care. Powerful tools and platforms available from mobile devices have made health care more accessible to the previously marginalised. And with technology evolving at a rapid rate, the availability of value-based care for all is quickly becoming a service that is 'one button away’.

 

References:

1 "WHO: MHealth: New Horizons for Health through Mobile Technologies: Based on the Findings of the Second Global Survey on EHealth (Global Observatory for EHealth Series, Volume 3)." Healthcare Informatics Research, vol. 18, no. 3, 2012, p. p.18, www.who.int/goe/publications/goe_mhealth_web.pdf, 10.4258/hir.2012.18.3.231. Accessed 14 Sept. 2021.

2 GSMA. "The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2020. Pg11." Https://Www.gsma.com/, GSMA, 2020, www.gsma.com/mobileeconomy/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/GSMA_MobileEconomy2020_SSA_Eng.pdf. Accessed 14 Sept. 2021.

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