The mHealth Moment

It was been a whirlwind few days covering the mHealth Summit here in Washington, DC. Conference organizers reported that there were 2,400 registered attendees.  The main ballroom was the size of a football field, and there was hardly a seat to find.  Keynotes included Bill Gates, Ted Turner, the top technology officer at the White House and several other impressive individuals.

So why all the enthusiasm? I think it is largely because we are in a very unique historical moment when it comes to both mobile phone technology and global health.   David Aylward, executive director of the mHealth Alliance says it well: this is an “mHealth Moment.”

The number of mobile phone users around the world is skyrocketing–particularly in the developing world.  This is happening so fast that Rockefeller Foundation president Dr. Judith Roden suggested that we should add an addendum to Moore’s Law that takes into account the incredible spread of mobile phones to new populations.    But what makes this a health moment–as opposed to simply a mobile moment– is a staggering amount of new investments in global health. This is driven in part by philanthropies like the Gates Foundation, but also by financial and policy commitments by governments.

The result of these two converging trends was on display throughout the week.

I came away believing that one of the most powerful tools in the hands of a doctor, nurse — and patient– is her mobile phone.  You get the sense that we are in the dawn of a revolution in public health.  In fact, I bet that ten years from now we will look back at these days as quaint.  It will be all together unremarkable for an Ob-Gyn in Lagos or Denver to monitor the fetal heart rate of a patient in some small village.  Or, that health workers at UNICEF have real time access to the birth registries of poor countries with large rural populations.

The technology for all these things basically exists today. In a few years time, mHealth will be so routine and seem so natural that we will wonder what life was like without it.

I’m just glad that I’ll be able to brag to my kids that I was there when it all began…But enough of my musings. Here are some highlights from the conference, pulled together by my friends at the UN Foundation: