Cell Phones, Money and Health!
MobileActive explores the convergence of mobile money and health
Anyone keeping up with news in the global health arena recently will know that Mobile Health is the new buzzword. Mobile Health, also known as mHealth, refers to the use of cell phone technology to improve the quality of and access to health activities. This can take a variety of forms including improving data collection and giving cell phone users easier access to health information. Last month, MobileActive, a hub for conversations on mobile technology for social change, produced a two-part series on another way for cell phones to improve health: Mobile Money. (Click here to read the full articles: Part 1 and Part 2).
Mobile Money, the use of cell phones to save and transfer money, is becoming increasingly prominent in lower- and middle-income countries: there are currently over 166 mobile money deployments worldwide, and countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and the Philippines have over a million users.
Benefits and Uses
Clearly Mobile Money has the pervasiveness to be a tool for improving health and health systems. But how will it actually accomplish this? According to MobileActive, Mobile Money can:
• Offer a convenient and secure mode of payment for patients to pay for health services (e.g. Yarona Care, which helps South Africans purchase vouchers and use them to pay for health services directly through their mobile phones)
• Guarantee payment to providers for services delivered, as well as allow for performance-based pay (which can increase the use of services and the quality of care)
• Increase and secure payments throughout the supply chain
• Reduce the opportunity for corruption and increase financial transparency (and thus attract donors)
• Improve reliability of health impact evaluations because expenses are clearly recorded
• Offer opportunities for micro-insurance schemes
• Incentivize patient compliance (e.g. X out TB in Nicaragua, which provided airtime rewards for patients who took their TB medication on a timely basis.)
This list is hardly exhaustive. In fact, companies and organizations are frequently coming up with new and innovative ways to utilize Mobile Money in the field of health. For example, some organizations, such as Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT) have started using mobile money to reimburse transportation and lodging costs, thereby increasing access to care.
Despite all of these benefits, the integration of Mobile Money with health is not guaranteed. MobileActive has identified several challenges:
• Many customers are registering for mobile money services, but are not necessarily using them
• Service charges can keep programs from scaling up
• There needs to be more investment in data security and encryption technology to maintain confidentiality of patient information
• Health organizations can be reluctant to integrate new technology into their work
• It can be difficult to negotiate between stakeholders interested in profit and stakeholders interested in social impact
mHealth and Mobile Money are both new fields and the health and development communities are still trying to understand how they can be used and what their impact will be. Nevertheless, if enough effort is put into studying these areas and evaluating pilot projects, the convergence of these two fields holds great promise for the betterment of health and health systems.