Mobile health activities are on the rise but the majority of them are still "limited in size and scope".

That is the key claim of a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report, called mHealth: New Horizons for Health through Mobile Technologies. It claims to be the most comprehensive global study of mHealth activity to date and analyses data from 112 countries by 14 mHealth activity types (see below), as well as WHO region and World Bank income group.

The WHO states that 83% of governments surveyed report at least one use of mobile phones to support health activities in their country. However, "the majority of these projects are still in pilot phase".

Two-thirds of countries reported between one and three mHealth activities, yet only 12% have even evaluated their efforts in this area. The four most frequently reported initiatives were health call centres (59%), emergency free phone services (55%), managing emergencies and disasters (54%), and mobile telemedicine (49%).

UK at the top

The WHO report notes that the UK is a leader in mHealth partially because of its progress with text message appointment reminders and the National Health Service's direct healthcare phone helpline. The rest of Europe is also making progress.

The study says the most significant barriers to adopting initiatives include "lack of government policy, lack of knowledge and lack of prioritisation". It argues that more guidance and information are needed to help mobile health be integrated with broader healthcare priorities, and the WHO says it will provide countries with information, as well as guidance on privacy and security issues.

Kathy Calvin, chief executive of the UN Foundation, a founding member and host of the Mobile health mHealth Alliance, said that “wireless technologies have enormous potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of health programmes". She claims that the report "provides the data that can help accelerate the strategic use and evaluation of mobile technologies as mHealth is taken to scale to help meet health needs".

- The 14 mHealth activity types include: appointment reminders, community mobilisation and health promotion, decision support systems, emergency toll-free telephone services, health call centres/health care telephone helplines, health surveillance, health surveys, information initiatives, mobile telemedicine, patient monitoring, patient records, public health emergencies, raising awareness and treatment compliance.