mHealth: From Hope to Hype and Back

Dr. Patricia (Patty) Mechael

mHealth: From Hope to Hype and Back



For over 10 years, mobile technology has emerged as a transformative and truly disruptive innovation throughout the world.  mHealth, the use of mobile technologies for health, has emerged as a critical strategy for public health and health service delivery  especially in low and middle income countries.  Having spent much of the past ten years studying informal and formal uses of mobile phones and other mobile devices for health, I have observed the advances and the trends in both technology and health that catalyzed them. The aim of this keynote is to take a systematic look at the evolution of mHealth over the course of the past ten years; from anthropological studies of health-related uses of mobile phones to privately sponsored NGO supported mHealth to increasing engagement and leadership of governments and industry in large scale deployments.  The field has advanced, technology has advanced, but what is vision for the future?  What needs to happen if the field is to advance towards scale and sustainability?  What will this mean for the mobile community?

While there is significant hype and many new entrants in the field – there is a need for pragmatic reflection so that we do not carry the mistakes of the past into the future at much larger more damaging scale.  Acknowledging that there has been a historical progression and evolution to mHealth and a mainstreaming process by the health sector that may make the need for a field and definitions obsolete is the first step in this process.



Dr. Patricia Mechael is the Executive Director of the mHealth Alliance, which is hosted by the United Nations Foundation, and faculty at the School of International and Public Affairs and Earth Institute, Columbia University. She has been actively involved in the field of International Health for over 15 years with field experience in 30+ countries primarily in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. She has a Masters in International Health from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Hygiene (1998) and a PhD in Public Health and Policy from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (2006), where she specifically examined the role of mobile phones in relation to health in Egypt.

For over 10 years, Dr. Mechael has published and spoken extensively on the strategic role of mobile telephony and relevant software applications within an ecosystem of eHealth, public health, and telecommunications actors in low and middle income countries as well as the increasing need to engage women and girls more effectively in designing and implementing the solutions aimed at improving their health and quality of life.  She recently published the co-edited volume, mHealth in Practice: Mobile technology for health promotion in the developing world with Jonathan Donner from Microsoft Research.