The Digital Productivity Conference, held in June 2013, highlighted the amazing inroads Australia has made in digital technology and health. To complement this exciting growth in the digital productivity sector, we thought it time to revisit mHealth technology and how Australia is tracking with the NBN.
The growth of mHealth technology
Mobile health or mHealth technologies are growing at an unprecedented rate. Mobile phone networks are now reaching up to 85% of the global population and the World Health Organisation estimates close to 5 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide.¹
Penetration into low and middle-income populations is far exceeding other infrastructure including internet access. In urban Australia, around 28% of homes do not have internet access although 82% of Australians aged 14 years or over use a mobile phone.²
However, mobile phone coverage is only available to around 25% of the Australian landmass which is not only problematic in emergency situations, but creates a gap between those who have mobile coverage and those who have not. Limited internet and phone coverage restricts access to business and employment opportunities as well as mobile services, such as mHealth, for people living in remote communities.
mHealth is certainly gaining momentum as a frontier health promotion resource in areas such as Africa, South America and Asia. It’s application in remote indigenous communities in Australia is not as widespread.²
mHealth - Current Global Applications
- SMS is the most common communication tool
- Medication/appointment reminders
- Data collection and surveillance (tracking infectious diseases eg; Avian flu, malaria)
- Monitoring people in their homes and in clinics
- Support for remote health care workers
- Clinical diagnostic decision support for clinicians
- Africa, India and China the most high frequency users of mHealth
- Childhood vaccination reminders
- HIV/AIDS education, resources and information
- Games and Quiz apps for children/teens help to increase compliance with medication and appointments.
Barriers to mHealth in developing countries
- Fluctuations in network coverage
- Limited electricity access
- Data security/confidentiality
- High phone turnover³
Will eHealth and mHealth become the new barrier to closing the Health information gap?
Ninti One is a group whose aim is to address social and economic disadvantage of people in remote areas of Australia. Their recent focus has been on equality of information and communication technology (ICT) for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Concern about access to the National Broadband Network (NBN), mobile phone coverage and training to improve digital literacy is a feature of their latest submission to the NBN.
Apolline Kohen, Senior Research Officer at Ninti One, informed us that there is a combination of the three NBN technologies—fibre, fixed wireless and satellite— designed to be rolled out to regional and remote areas of Australia. Ms Kohen agrees that it’s been a slow start and there seems to be a general consensus that many communities won’t be connected to the NBN before 2015-16. There is also the unresolved issue of lack of mobile coverage and lack of strategy to improve the connection, which has implications for the timely delivery of health applications.
Ms Kohen believes that, “both the Government’s and the Opposition’s NBN plans, need enhancement to include a strategy aimed at improving communications in remote and rural Australia by:
- The expansion of mobile coverage
- Getting digital infrastructure right – both the rational use of existing infrastructure and expanding infrastructure
- Smart last mile solutions for small towns and communities
- Affordable pricing for mobile calls in remote and rural Australia
- Improved digital literacy
- Good research to underpin ICT policy
- Improving Indigenous communications programs.”
Ninti One is a founding member of the Broadband for the Bush Alliance and their policy papers can be found here broadbandforthebush.com.au
It seems the important questions around the latest eHealth technology are yet to be answered.
- Can Australia’s ICT catch up to the rest of the world, providing equitable access to the latest eHealth and mHealth initiatives?
- With the expansion of eHealth just around the corner and without the promised NBN and mobile access just around that same corner, how will eHealth deliver on their promises?
@NBNCo Note: Last visit to the @NBNC0 Twitter Account revealed a distinct lack of Twitter Action since the 2013 Federal Election. Another example of the Coalition keeping very quiet on policy and the future of service delivery…?
Malcolm Turnbull @TurnbullMalcolm has an interesting take on the Coalition’s cost benefit analysis of the NBN
- World Health Organisation (WHO) Website. Tobacco Free Initiative. www.who.int/tobacco/mhealth/en
- Newman L., Biedrzycki K. & Baum F. Australian Health Review 2012;36:125-29. www.publish.csiro.au
- Suggs LS. Mobile Phones 4 Disease Control. Presented at eHealth in Proof and Practice. Swiss TPH. May 2012. www.swisstph.ch/Suggs.pdf