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November 7, 2011

Evaluation Needed on Global eHealth and mHealth Initiatives

Recently, the World Health Organization convened a panel of experts in Bellagio, Italy, to evaluate the global state of eHealth initiatives (including telemedicine and mHealth), which utilize information and communications technologies to improve health. Alain Labrique, PhD, an assistant professor with the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was part of a 19-member leadership team that developed an eHealth “call to action.”

According to the group, aid agencies including PEPFAR, USAID, the World Bank, and the Global Fund, spend between $3 billion to $5 billion on eHealth initiatives, but little data is available to show whether these systems function well or have a beneficial impact on health. The group issued a joint statement entitled “Call to Action on Global eHealth Evaluation” and concluded, “To improve health and reduce health inequalities, rigorous evaluation of eHealth is necessary to generate evidence and promote the appropriate integration and use of technologies.”

Recommendations of the group include developing and adapting tools to evaluate eHealth initiatives, identifying barriers to effective evaluation and gaps in knowledge, and developing an “eHealth Evaluation Learning Network” to promote in-country evaluation of eHealth interventions.

“Many of us believe that eHealth and mHealth strategies have tremendous potential to play a transformative role in global health, especially in remote, rural and resource-constrained settings. The Bellagio consensus that e/mHealth, if used improperly, can divert limited resources and even cause harm serves as added impetus for rigorous evaluation and research to be done,” said Labrique, who also serves as the inaugural Director of the new University-wide JHU Global mHealth Initiative.

The full text of “Call to Action on Global eHealth Evaluation” is available at http://www.ghdonline.org/tech/resource/call-to-action-on-global-ehealth-evaluation/.