mHealth provides opportunities, but risks widening inequalities.

Policy précis mHealth

As mHealth continues to rapidly develop in Europe it is essential to consider how this development will affect health inequalities. Effort is needed to make sure that the potential advantages benefit as many people as possible, and that existing inequalities are not made worse. As health ministers meet this week to adopt European Council Conclusions on digital health, EuroHealthNet has published a new Policy Précis on mHealth. It describes the links between mHealth and health equity, examines good practices for policy and development, and makes recommendations on how progress can be made.

The term mHealth refers to medical and public health practices supported by mobile devices. It can increase accessibility and contribute to a more person-focused healthcare system. It may support a shift towards prevention-focused health systems whilst improving health system efficiency.

However, there is a danger that mHealth could exacerbate existing inequalities. Technical and literacy skills differ greatly between social and age groups, and for some the affordability of appropriate mobile devices presents a challenge. This, in addition to issues relating to privacy and security of data, could influence health equity adversely.

In order to ensure sustainable, effective, and appropriate development of mHealth, we must apply precautionary principles which ensure no damage is done. Transparent and reliable regulatory frameworks are needed. It is essential that cross-border patient and privacy rights are protected along with personal data and electronic identification. The use of data should be transparent and citizens should be justified in trusting mHealth applications.

Monitoring and evaluation is crucial; solutions should be proven to be useful, usable, and used – or discarded. Health professionals as well as end-users from a variety of backgrounds must be involved in the design and implementation of mHealth interventions.

A number of EU initiatives addressing mHealth have been developed, and in Member States many agencies are already using mHealth to support the health and wellbeing of citizens. Further details are included in the Policy Precis.