Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Technology

Commentary: The emperor’s new phone

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 22 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2051
  1. Edward Fottrell, lecturer in epidemiology and global health, UCL Institute of Global Health
  1. e.fottrell{at}

Low cost mobile phones have unquestionably revolutionised access to information and communication worldwide. Mobile health (m-health)—the application of mobile technology in healthcare and health promotion—can create unique opportunities for citizen participation in identifying health priorities and solutions and can enable collaboration between individuals, researchers, and health authorities in real time to inform (or misinform) the public.

Innovations in m-health have been used effectively in high income countries for smoking cessation, weight loss, diet and physical activity, treatment adherence, disease management, and more.1 2 3 4 M-health has also shown promise in some of the world’s poorest settings and hardest to reach populations, with initiatives including health promotion programmes using text or voice messaging, decision support apps, rapid diagnostics, early warning systems, and outbreak and disease surveillance methods.

Technology is not neutral

However, technology is not neutral—it is affected by the contextually determined relationships between innovations, people, and systems.5 It is not surprising, therefore, that most of the literature on m-health in low income settings focuses on pilot studies assessing the feasibility and acceptability of m-health interventions in different …

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