Health care via mobile technology is still in its infancy. Of 75 trials in which patients used mobile tech, such as text messaging and downloadable apps, to manage a disease or adopt healthier behaviors, only three showed reliable signs of success, according to a systematic survey. In an accompanying survey of medical personnel who used smart phones and other devices, to help deliver care, the same team found more success: 11 of 42 trials had positive, reliable results.
Yet mobile device-aided health care, called mHealth, attracts a lot of attention and dollars, as U.S. National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins wrote last year in Scientific American. In 2012 venture capital firms invested more than $900 million in mHealth, according to a report by Mobile Health Market News.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for [mHealth] but [its effectiveness] wasn’t very clear,” says epidemiologist Caroline Free of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in England, the lead author of the reviews. In 2011, for example, the World Health Organization found that only 12 percent of mobile health initiatives included an evaluation.