mHealth: But Does it Work?

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Just in time for the mHealth Summit, The Lancet published an evaluation of an SMS initiative (gated) to improve antiretroviral therapy (ART) at clinics in Kenya. Patients were randomly assigned to groups, one of which would receive text messages from nurses while the other would receive standard care. Similar programs exist for pregnant women getting reminders regarding antenatal care and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). Determining whether or not programs such as these result in improved health outcomes is key for public health professionals.

According to Lester et al.:

Patients who received SMS support had significantly improved ART adherence and rates of viral suppression compared with the control individuals. Mobile phones might be effective tools to improve patient outcome in resource-limited settings.

Karen Grepin from NYU finds both good and bad news in the study:

The study did find significantly higher rates of reported adherence and significantly higher levels of viral suppression among those receiving the SMS messages. Both too really good pieces of news. On the negative side, neither arm of the study showed particularly high levels of adherence and both arms suffered relatively high levels of attrition. So while it helps, it does not necessarily solve the problems of adherence or attrition.