The limitations of today’s mHealth treatments should not discourage researchers, Free says, because people can learn from interventions that did work. For instance, in some of the trials in Free’s second review, mobile phones helped doctors and nurses communicate with one another and with patients. But mobile phone cameras turned out to be bad for making remote diagnoses.
“We're at an exciting time right now and these reviews are in some ways catalyzing much greater discussion within the community to take a harder look at the evidence for mHealth,” says Patricia Mechael, executive director of the mHealth Alliance in Washington, D.C.
Chakrabarti says one challenge for the field will be to conduct studies in locations with a bigger impact. A successful trial in the U.K. may not translate in the developing world due to different regulations, culture or infrastructure. So there should be more mHealth trials in low- and middle-income countries, he says, and their designers need to use to the highest standard of evidence. He adds, “It has the potential to break down many barriers to access.”