Mobile health in emerging countries: a survey of research initiatives in Brazil

Int J Med Inform. 2013 May;82(5):283-98. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2013.01.003. Epub 2013 Feb 12.


Objective: To conduct a comprehensive survey of mobile health (mHealth) research initiatives in Brazil, discussing current challenges, gaps, opportunities and tendencies.

Methods: Systematic review of publicly available electronic documents related to mHealth, including scientific publications, technical reports and descriptions of commercial products. Specifically, 42 projects are analyzed and classified according to their goals. This analysis considers aspects such as security features provided (if any), the health condition that are focus of attention, the main providers involved in the projects development and deployment, types of devices used, target users, where the projects are tested and/or deployed, among others.

Results: The study shows a large number (86%) of mHealth solutions focused on the following categories: health surveys, surveillance, patient records and monitoring. Meanwhile, treatment compliance, awareness raising and decision support systems are less explored. The main providers of solutions are the universities (56%) and health units (32%), with considerable cooperation between such entities. Most applications have physicians (55%) and Community Health Agents (CHAs) (33%) as targeted users, the latter being important elements in nation-wide governmental health programs. Projects focused on health managers, however, are a minority (5%). The majority of projects do not focus on specific diseases but rather general health (57%), although solutions for hearth conditions are reasonably numerous (21%). Finally, the lack of security mechanisms in the majority of the surveyed solutions (52%) may hinder their deployment in the field due to the lack of compliance with general regulations for medical data handling.

Conclusion: There are currently many mHealth initiatives in Brazil, but some areas have not been much explored, such as solutions for treatment compliance and awareness raising, as well as decision support systems. Another research trend worth exploring refers to creating interoperable security mechanisms, especially for widely explored mHealth categories such as health surveys, patient records and monitoring. Challenges for the expansion of mHealth solutions, both in number and coverage, include the further involvement of health managers in the deployment of such solutions and in coordinating efforts among health and research institutions interested in the mHealth trend, possibly exploring the widespread presence of CHAs around the country as users of such technology.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brazil
  • Humans
  • National Health Programs
  • Research Design*
  • Telemedicine / methods
  • Telemedicine / standards
  • Telemedicine / statistics & numerical data*