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NIH: Looking at the potential of mHealth to solve long-standing problems

By William Riley, PhD, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
And Wendy Nilsen, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research

Mobile and wireless health (mHealth) is a nascent and rapidly growing field. These technologies provide the potential to advance research, prevent disease, enhance diagnostics, improve treatment, reduce disparities, increase access to health services and lower healthcare costs in ways previously unimaginable. 

Real-time, continuous biological, behavioral and environmental data collected by wireless and mobile technologies will improve our understanding of the etiology of health and disease, particularly when integrated with data from areas such as genomics, biomarkers and electronic medical records. In line with the NIH mission, these data can help in answering the difficult questions about the relationship between genetic contributions and environmental factors in health and disease and the developmental origins of adult disease, as well as informing the development of treatments and prevention programs that are preemptive, personalized and adaptive over time. 

NIH also recognizes that a major opportunity also arises from the potential of mobile and wireless health technologies to continuously monitor chronic medical conditions around the world, as well as to implement disease management plans that capitalize on this expanded information. Chronic disease conditions have been recognized in the developed world as a major source of morbidity and mortality. Similarly, in the low- and middle-income countries, chronic disease is increasingly being cited as an emerging problem and a major component of disease burden.

NIH is aware of the need for rigorous mHealth research that examines the potential, as well as the challenges, of harnessing mobile technologies to improve global health outcomes. NIH encourages both the technology developers and the researchers to start with problems that demand solving, so that the field is needs-driven, rather than product-driven. 

With its potential for providing low-cost, high quality data to enhance health research and improve health outcomes around the world, mobile/wireless health is of growing interest to the NIH, especially since many of these technologies apply to multiple diseases and conditions.

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