We know anecdotally that mobile health solutions can be cost effective and cost saving. Physicians that use our Mobius Clinic app tell us all the time, and a quick review of the explosion of mHealth apps shows how mobility is creating value in healthcare.

But an article published earlier this year in PLoS One digs deeper into the economic evidence for mHealth. The authors reviewing existing literature and report that about 75 percent of studied mHealth interventions were found to be “cost-effective, economically beneficial, or cost saving.”

mHealth is cost effective

Long story short, there’s evidence that mHealth is economically efficient compared to similar non-mobile interventions. But if you take a closer look, the paper also offers an interesting snapshot of mHealth interventions as of 2017.

Published in February, the paper is a meta analysis that reviews 39 studies from 19 countries, including interventions related to primary health, behavior change and text message communication. The most common disease and condition focuses were outpatient clinic attendance, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The authors’ takeaway message is clear – “Findings highlight a growing body of economic evidence for mHealth interventions.” Building this economic evidence for mHealth is important because it can help guide decision makers or funders. Providers and donors should always choose interventions that improve health outcomes the most for the lowest cost, and rigorous, peer-reviewed research is one important way to compare and evaluate approaches.

“Findings highlight a growing body of economic evidence for mHealth interventions.”

Article highlights

Beyond supporting the cost-effectiveness of mHealth interventions, here are a few highlights from the article published earlier this year.

  • This is the first study to focus on understanding the potential economic impact of mHealth interventions broadly. Previous reviews have focused on telehealth and telemedicine, or on specific diseases or populations.
  • The number of published studies that evaluate the economic effectiveness of mHealth has increased since 2012. For example, there were just 6 studies published in 2013, compared to 16 in 2015.
  • Most of the studies reviewed used mobile device interventions to promote behavior changes, such as better attendance rates or medication adherence.
  • The most common behavior change intervention was to send patients text messages as reminders or as a way of providing information and support. As the authors summarize, “Text-messaging interventions are popular because they can be sent, stored, answered and retrieved at the user’s convenience; they are relatively inexpensive; and they are available for any type of phone.”
  • Most studies in the review took place in the US, followed by the UK, and then various African countries and European countries. The authors noted that about two-thirds of the articles focused on upper income countries, and that more research should evaluate the economics of mHealth interventions in lower and middle income countries.
A cautionary note

While findings support the cost effectiveness of mHealth interventions, the authors also make a cautionary note.

The authors reviewed but ultimately excluded many articles that simply assumed mHealth interventions would be cost effective without providing any evidence. As they summarize, “of the excluded studies during screening, 57% included statements of cost-effectiveness or cost in the abstract or title but upon further evaluation did not provide enough detail to be considered a partial or full economic evaluation.”

The conclude by saying that researchers should do a better job of following established economic reporting guidelines to improve the body of evidence for mHealth.

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