Global mHealth policy arena: status check and future directions
In this review, we examine an important piece of the mHealth puzzle that has received scant attention—health policy. The question is whether health policy ultimately will serve to unite nations in advancing global mHealth or, as Mars and Scott suggested in 2010, keep nations isolated and ultimately making their policy decisions in “eHealth silos”. Such a non-collaborative approach seriously hampers the potential for using mobile health technologies to deliver health care across borders, assuring individuals access to affordable, convenient, and quality healthcare in underserved regions. From a global perspective, mHealth policy review is difficult as some important policies may be subsumed in comprehensive planning and strategy documents. Political, environmental, economic, organizational, and technology disparities across nations represent a significant impediment to developing mHealth products and services that can be deployed globally. To date, there is modest evidence that such challenges are being addressed. Even though payers can encourage adoption of mHealth with financial incentives for use, it appears that payment or reimbursement tends to be a roadblock for almost all nations, whether they are emerging or developed. If payment for mHealth services is not guaranteed, business models will not be sustainable and providers will have fewer opportunities for scalability. Furthermore, because mHealth policies typically are subject to some type of government scrutiny and oversight, many product developers and entrepreneurs may turn elsewhere for their investments. Global resource scarcity also challenges optimal mHealth deployment, and governments seek to ensure improved population health outcomes as return on their mHealth investments. Unfortunately, such justification is difficult as evaluation methods simply have not kept pace with mHealth technology capability. Requisite measurement tools are sorely lacking when it comes to evaluating efficacy of mHealth interventions, due in part to insufficient research to inform development of needed measurement tools. Because most robust mHealth research trials have been conducted in the developed world with its impressive technology infrastructure and not in developing nations where the health needs are greatest, evaluation of mobile technology intervention from a global perspective tends to be insufficient to inform policy decisions.