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      Can the ubiquitous power of mobile phones be used to improve health outcomes in developing countries?


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      Globalization and Health

      BioMed Central

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          The ongoing policy debate about the value of communications technology in promoting development objectives is diverse. Some view computer/web/phone communications technology as insufficient to solve development problems while others view communications technology as assisting all sections of the population. This paper looks at evidence to support or refute the idea that fixed and mobile telephones is, or could be, an effective healthcare intervention in developing countries.


          A Web-based and library database search was undertaken including the following databases: MEDLINE, CINAHL, (nursing & allied health), Evidence Based Medicine (EBM), POPLINE, BIOSIS, and Web of Science, AIDSearch (MEDLINE AIDS/HIV Subset, AIDSTRIALS & AIDSDRUGS) databases.


          Evidence can be found to both support and refute the proposition that fixed and mobile telephones is, or could be, an effective healthcare intervention in developing countries. It is difficult to generalize because of the different outcome measurements and the small number of controlled studies. There is almost no literature on using mobile telephones as a healthcare intervention for HIV, TB, malaria, and chronic conditions in developing countries. Clinical outcomes are rarely measured. Convincing evidence regarding the overall cost-effectiveness of mobile phone " telemedicine" is still limited and good-quality studies are rare. Evidence of the cost effectiveness of such interventions to improve adherence to medicines is also quite weak.


          The developed world model of personal ownership of a phone may not be appropriate to the developing world in which shared mobile telephone use is important. Sharing may be a serious drawback to use of mobile telephones as a healthcare intervention in terms of stigma and privacy, but its magnitude is unknown. One advantage, however, of telephones with respect to adherence to medicine in chronic care models is its ability to create a multi-way interaction between patient and provider(s) and thus facilitate the dynamic nature of this relationship. Regulatory reforms required for proper operation of basic and value-added telecommunications services are a priority if mobile telecommunications are to be used for healthcare initiatives.

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          Most cited references 45

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          Systematic review of cost effectiveness studies of telemedicine interventions.

          To systematically review cost benefit studies of telemedicine. Systematic review of English language, peer reviewed journal articles. Searches of Medline, Embase, ISI citation indexes, and database of Telemedicine Information Exchange. STUDIES SELECTED: 55 of 612 identified articles that presented actual cost benefit data. Scientific quality of reports assessed by use of an established instrument for adjudicating on the quality of economic analyses. 557 articles without cost data categorised by topic. 55 articles with data initially categorised by cost variables employed in the study and conclusions. Only 24/55 (44%) studies met quality criteria justifying inclusion in a quality review. 20/24 (83%) restricted to simple cost comparisons. No study used cost utility analysis, the conventional means of establishing the "value for money" that a therapeutic intervention represents. Only 7/24 (29%) studies attempted to explore the level of utilisation that would be needed for telemedicine services to compare favourably with traditionally organised health care. None addressed this question in sufficient detail to adequately answer it. 15/24 (62.5%) of articles reviewed here provided no details of sensitivity analysis, a method all economic analyses should incorporate. There is no good evidence that telemedicine is a cost effective means of delivering health care.
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            A telecommunications system for monitoring and counseling patients with hypertension. Impact on medication adherence and blood pressure control.

             R. Friedman (1996)
            This study was conducted to evaluate the effect of automated telephone patient monitoring and counseling on patient adherence to antihypertensive medications and on blood pressure control. A randomized controlled trial was conducted in 29 greater Boston communities. The study subjects were 267 patients recruited from community sites who were >or= 60 years of age, on antihypertensive medication, with a systolic blood pressure (SBP) of >or= 160 mm Hg and/or a diastolic blood pressure (DBP) of >or= 90 mm Hg. The study compared subjects who received usual medical care with those who used a computer-controlled telephone system in addition to their usual medical care during a period of 6 months. Weekly, subjects in the telephone group reported self-measured blood pressures, knowledge and adherence to antihypertensive medication regimens, and medication side-effects. This information was sent to their physicians regularly. The main study outcome measures were change in antihypertensive medication adherence, SBP and DBP during 6 months, satisfaction of patient users, perceived utility for physicians, and cost-effectiveness. The mean age of the study population was 76.0 years; 77% were women; 11% were black. Mean antihypertensive medication adherence improved 17.7% for telephone system users and 11.7% for controls (P = .03). Mean DBP decreased 5.2 mm Hg in users compared to 0.8 mm Hg in controls (P = .02). Among nonadherent subjects, mean DBP decreased 6.0 mm Hg for telephone users, but increased 2.8 mm Hg for controls (P = .01). For telephone system users, mean DBP decreased more if their medication adherence improved (P = .03). The majority of telephone system users were satisfied with the system. Most physicians integrated it into their practices. The system was cost-effective, especially for nonadherent patient users. Therefore, weekly use of an automated telephone system improved medication adherence and blood pressure control in hypertension patients. This system can be used to monitor patients with hypertension or with other chronic diseases, and is likely to improve health outcomes and reduce health services utilization and costs.
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              College smoking-cessation using cell phone text messaging.

              Although rates of smoking among college-aged students continue to rise, few interventions that focus on college smokers' unique motivations and episodic smoking patterns exist. The authors developed and evaluated a prototype program targeting college students that integrates Web and cell phone technologies to deliver a smoking-cessation intervention. To guide the user through the creation and initialization of an individualized quitting program delivered by means of cell phone text messaging, the program uses assessment tools delivered with the program Web site. Forty-six regular smokers were recruited from local colleges and provided access to the program. At 6-week follow-up, 43% had made at least one 24-hour attempt to quit, and 22% were quit--based on a 7-day prevalence criterion. The findings provide support for using wireless text messages to deliver potentially effective smoking-cessation behavioral interventions to college students.

                Author and article information

                Global Health
                Globalization and Health
                BioMed Central (London )
                23 May 2006
                : 2
                : 9
                [1 ]Center for International Health and Development, Boston University School of Public Health, 85 E. Concord Street, Boston, MA 02118, USA
                Copyright © 2006 Kaplan; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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