The definition of mHealth:

mHealth is the leverage of Mobile for Health

Mobile: the newest Mass Media
Health: The state of complete physical, mental and social well-being

NOTE: It is not a subset of eHealth, in the same way that the TV is not a subset of the Cinema. Mobile has 8 (already identified) unique attributes as the newest mass media and these can be leveraged to empower patients and Healthcare service delivery (click here to check out an example of each).

At least once a day I get asked “what is mHealth”. Despite me thinking it’s pretty simple, there seem to be a variety of different ideas on this which are illustrated perfectly by the rambling definition you’ll find at Wikipedia:

Mobile eHealth or mHealth broadly encompasses the use of mobile telecommunication and multimedia technologies as they are integrated within increasingly mobile and wireless health care delivery systems and is part of a movement towards citizen-centered health service delivery. Mobile technologies by nature lend themselves to more decentralized health service delivery. Although Ministries of Health in low and middle income countries and policy makers are eager to explore the use of mobile phones and other ICT to promote health, the lack of a comprehensive model, knowledge base, and published data on the health benefits poses significant barriers.

The most widely cited and definitive definition is by Istepanian et al. as ‘emerging mobile communications and network technologies for healthcare.’

Other later citations include Bardram et al. as m-health is focused on embedded wireless devices that track health-related parameters:

“The recent advances in information and communication technologies (ICT) enable technically the continual monitoring of health-related parameters with wireless sensors, wherever the user happens to be. Small, low-power sensors can, in principle, be embedded in almost anything in our surroundings: furniture, vehicles, wearable devices, and even clothes. Mobile phones or personal digital assistants (PDAs) with wireless networking capabilities may serve as gateweays that process, store, and transfer measured parameters to clinicians for further analysis or diagnosis. This technology trend, also called mHealth (mobile health), is already visible in the market.”

To my mind these are invalid, Robert Istepanian’s (pictured above N.B. Please read comment from Prof Robert Istepanian posted in the comments below) definition cannot hold water because it suggests Mobile Communications and Network Technologies are “emerging” – after 30 years the newest Trillion $ industry is a long way from that, and the use of mobiles in Health are also familiar with 99% of users.

The talk of mHealth being about small wireless sensors and Body Area Networks (BANs) is something that all too often reflects the desires of technologists and researchers and has been “about to happen” since the days of PDA’s. But the Healthcare Industry has a long way to go before it even wakes up to the power of the mobile phone and network as a sensor:

and as a means of delivering valuable Healthcare Information:

…before we even start being able to understand the contributions these allied devices will make.

*** UPDATE: 18 June 2014 ***

Check out this 40 minute Introduction to mHealth presentation that I gave at the Digital Health Summit 2013 in Istanbul:

40 Responses to The definition of mHealth:

  1. [...] mHealth/Mobile Health = the use of Mobile (the newest Mass Media) to deliver Healthcare. [...]

    • Professor Robert S H Istepanian says:

      Hi,

      I am writing to clarify and also to repudiate the comments from the author on this blog on the m-health definition

      When I first defined m-health in my papers published in the IEEE Transaction Information Technologies in Biomedicine( That clearly the author did not read.). This was first in 1999(as unwired e-med) and then in 2003 ( as m-health). The ‘m-health’ wording and terminology used then was not known or used prior to that leading academic papers and publications and to that date to the best of my knowledge.
      The word concerning the ‘emerging mobile and network technolgies’ in my original definition was to infer to then what was yet in the development phases and yet to be standarised and commercialised of the 3.5G and other beyond 3G technologies and networks ( not cellular) technolgies ( such as the current WiMAX) networks for use in healthcare applications. Where as by that date (in the late 1990’s and eary 2000’s) the phone technologies used commercially would have been of GMS/GPRS technologies that were not compatible to different m-health data applications that we see today.

      The author should have been aware of these facts and information before writing such comment(s) on this blog and should have read my papers first before posting any such misleading information.

      I request that the author to rectify and withdrew his comments on my definition on m-health.

      Thank you

      Robert S H Istepanian
      Professor
      Kingston University, London

      • Hi Robert,

        “I am writing to clarify and also to repudiate the comments from the author on this blog on the m-health definition”

        There is no untruth to my post. It is merely my opinion and I’ve linked to my source (Wikipedia).

        “When I first defined m-health in my papers published in the IEEE Transaction Information Technologies in Biomedicine( That clearly the author did not read.)”

        I have read and have copies of the vast majority of work in this area (including yours) although I can’t speak for the author of the wikipedia page. For readers here is the link to where Roberts published articles can be found: http://bit.ly/bVuNlj

        “This was first in 1999(as unwired e-med) and then in 2003 ( as m-health)”

        In the definition I gave above I specifically state that I think mHealth is not a “a subset of eHealth” (or “unwired e-med” as you prefer to refer to it).

        “beyond 3G technologies and networks ( not cellular) technolgies ( such as the current WiMAX) networks”

        Not sure what you mean by this. WiMax is most certainly a 3G technology according to the ITU: http://www.wirelessweek.com/Archives/2007/10/WiMAX-is-3G/

        “The author should have been aware of these facts and information before writing such comment(s) on this blog and should have read my papers first before posting any such misleading information”

        As stated above I have read and have copies of your papers, in fact I recall you giving them to me in 2005 after a meeting with your colleagues at Brunel University. In my article I have quoted (and linked to) your name/suggested statement taken directly from the Wikipedia entry for mHealth. If these are inaccurate please state this. If you would like me to edit the wikipedia entry for you I would be happy to oblige.

        “I request that the author to rectify and withdrew his comments on my definition on m-health”

        As the definition still remains on Wikipedia (a resource that is many many more times popular than my inconsequentially small blog) I think it’s only fair to quote it as that’s what most people would encounter first if searching for a definition on mHealth – which is what this blog is intended to address.

        In light of your interest in addressing this concern I have added a comment to the original post referring to these comments and your dispute.

        If I can be of further help please don’t hesitate to let me know.

        PS. writing PRIVATE CORRESPONDENCE on a comment here will have it acknowledged as such.

  2. [...] meet the health needs of America’s seniors”, before proceeding to give 4 examples of mHealth technologies that will work perfectly over normal 2G cellular [...]

  3. [...] Here’s the definition I use for mHealth. I think the crux of Eric’s problem is that he seems to be listening to the opinions of conference organisers for direction on an industry. As someone who has organised conferences going back to 2005 it’s always surprised me how unaware people are about what this entails: Conference organisers are responsible for “organising conferences”. An important part of this is bringing the big corporate decision makers to the table as these are the ones the industry wants to hear from and meet with. They’re also well positioned to spend money on those big ticket sponsorship packages. [...]

  4. [...] a Wireless Health or a mHealth revolution? The difference between Wireless and mHealth (check here for definition) may at times seem trivial or just a mere play of words and some people even express disdain for [...]

  5. [...] Please take the time to remind yourself of how mHealth is no more a subset of eHealth as TV was a su… (even though when TV was the newest new media it was probably just as hard to imagine the opportunity that it presented beyond what was already being done with the cinema format eg. before we experienced rolling/live 24hr news, quiz shows, reality TV programmes etc etc) [...]

  6. [...] is so much more… we’ve had wireless for decades, mHealth is the leverage of Mobile, the newest Mass Media, to improve Health. Read about the 8 already identified unique advantages and how they can be [...]

  7. [...] are a great challenge to the definition of mHealth as the leverage of Mobile (the newest and least understood mass media) for Healthcare. But I find that each of them either merely describes a part of it or is taken out of context. As a [...]

  8. [...] talk by David McCarron, EMEA Healthcare Lead, illustrated perfectly the importance that we’re strict about a definition of mHealth. He’s taken the definition directly from the UN’s mHealth Alliance: “the use of mobile [...]

  9. [...] think this is incorrect. mHealth is the leveraging of MOBILE (the newest mass media) for healthcare. The difference is subtle but important so please visit the post I link to if you need to. The [...]

  10. [...] UK Trade & Invest (UKTI) and the Digital Communications Knowledge Transfer Network (DCKTN) have announced that they’ll be bringing an additional programme of technology seminars to Mobile World Congress. Held in Sala Principe, Hall 8, this will include a session between 10:30 – 12:30 on Tuesday 15th February that’s rather oddly titled “mHealth – eHealth and assisted Living” (Note: mHealth is no more a subset of eHealth than the TV is a subset of the Cinema): [...]

  11. [...] but this conclusion was obvious when you read the article and realise Ted is confused by mHealth and it’s definition. Instead of appreciating that mHealth is the leverage of mobile – the newest mass media [...]

  12. [...] In this instance it was particularly sad to find it as although there are plenty of the competitive events there really was no need for the team at Stanford to hype what they had planned. The inaugural 2010 event had been sold out, they had a great line up of speakers/sponsors and the whole event was focused on the enormous opportunities that are developing as a result of the convergence of two trillion dollar industries. [...]

  13. [...] will know of the definition I propose: mHealth is the leverage of Mobile for Health. Where Mobile = the newest Mass Media and Health = The state of complete physical, mental and [...]

  14. [...] with >3500 followers) but for critically important surveys they’re continuing to ignore the newest mass media and failing to listen to and effectively communicate the interests of their members. Share [...]

  15. [...] As I’ve mentioned before at length this is a description that’s going to become outdated very quickly as entrepreneurs begin to increasingly leverage the opportunity for mobile communication networks to also add value from network intelligence and cloud based services (such as mPayments, etc). [...]

  16. [...] made a great job of highlighting some of the key issues that arise when you are confused about the definition of mHealth eg. you don’t appreciate Mobile as the newest mass media and mHealth as what we have when [...]

  17. [...] their healthcare brand can become a market leader in the space that is opening up with Mobile (the newest mass market media). I always refer to a simple [...]

  18. [...] I think the report has started with a definition of mHealth that is flawed – see here for a more accurate definition that explains the m as mobile the newest mass media. [...]

  19. [...] client shared with me this Healthworks Collective post from Joan Justice asking if mHealth is the leverage of the newest mass media for Health what’s so wrong with the very different definition being used in this [...]

  20. [...] it’s obvious that these medical device partners don’t have the best understanding of mHealth or the speed with which the mobile market moves. Unlike most of the mHealth peripherals we’re [...]

  21. [...] mHealth being at the centre of a convergence of two distinct trillion dollar industries (Mobile and [...]

  22. [...] mHealth being at the centre of a convergence of two distinct trillion dollar industries (Mobile and [...]

  23. [...] think this discussion highlights the need to approach mhealth with a understanding of mobile as the newest mass media as it’s a only then that you can [...]

  24. [...] Clearly I think this consensus definition is very inaccurate and this will become obvious as users of it begin to look beyond the device in the hand and to the Health opportunities that mobile networks can offer (these are obviously accommodated by a definition that recognises mobile as the newest mass media rather than as a device). [...]

  25. [...] Try this mHealth definition for size: mHealth is the leverage of Mobile (the newest mass media) for Health. [...]

  26. [...] Mobile Health (or mHealth as I refer to it) is “not a field” it’s the leverage of Mobile – the newest mass media – for Health. The concept of thinking of mHealth as a tool is a good idea but it’s not just any old tool: [...]

  27. [...] Mobile Health (or mHealth as I refer to it) is “not a field” it’s the leverage of Mobile – the newest mass media – for Health. The concept of thinking of mHealth as a tool is a good idea but it’s not just any old tool: [...]

  28. [...] to the definition I favor (that mHealth is the leverage of Mobile – the newest mass media – for Health) I think Kevin’s alternative has several short [...]

  29. [...] I think it’s key that we don’t consider “mHealth” to be the “mobility of Health” but rather “the leverage of Mobile for Health, where Mobile is the newest Mass Media and Health is the state of …“ [...]

  30. [...] that mHealth is just a subset of eHealth) but I think this is a very inaccurate definition (click here for the definition I use where mobile is the newest mass media) and users of it will face confusion as they realise that [...]

  31. [...] Obviously mHealth is far from being “digitally-enabled health care” but even if I ignore that I still find it hard to make sense of this, to me it’s akin to saying that the Doctors and Hospitals that were early customers of Microsoft PCs were as flawed as those who couldn’t see the opportunity for PCs. In my opinion it was these pioneers who rolled up their sleeves that have shaped the changes we see today in healthcare practice. [...]

  32. [...] of eHealth” just because the World Health Organization website states that it is – try this more accurate definition – but it’s great that it’s becoming obvious that we’re moving in the [...]

  33. [...] any of this gear is going mainstream isn’t because it’s wireless but because it’s converging with MOBILE the newest mass media and a device that is the most popular consumer gadget in the history of [...]

  34. [...] hearted TV show makes it very clear that the reason this is all so exciting is because it’s mHealth eg. medical technology that is converging with the smart mobile devices that are already in our [...]

  35. [...] contribute with a dedicated mHealth stream that will introduce some of the unique dynamics that the newest mass media brings to Digital Health before sharing what we think are the most exciting mHealth investment [...]

  36. […] Clinics” deliver “Mobile Health” is another good reason for us to refer to Healthcare that leverages “Mobile” (the newest mass media) as “mHealth” and not Mobile Health to avoid potential for […]

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