Evidence-based adaptation and scale-up of a mobile phone health information service

Mhealth. 2017 Mar 23:3:11. doi: 10.21037/mhealth.2017.02.06. eCollection 2017.


Background: The research base recommending the use of mobile phone interventions for health improvement is growing at a rapid pace. The use of mobile phones to deliver health behavior change and maintenance interventions in particular is gaining a robust evidence base across geographies, populations, and health topics. However, research on best practices for successfully scaling mHealth interventions is not keeping pace, despite the availability of frameworks for adapting and scaling health programs.

Methods: m4RH-Mobile for Reproductive Health-is an SMS, or text message-based, health information service that began in two countries and over a period of 7 years has been adapted and scaled to new population groups and new countries. Success can be attributed to following key principles for scaling up health programs, including continuous stakeholder engagement; ongoing monitoring, evaluation, and research including extensive content and usability testing with the target audience; strategic dissemination of results; and use of marketing and sustainability principles for social initiatives. This article investigates how these factors contributed to vertical, horizontal, and global scale-up of the m4RH program.

Results: Vertical scale of m4RH is demonstrated in Tanzania, where the early engagement of stakeholders including the Ministry of Health catalyzed expansion of m4RH content and national-level program reach. Ongoing data collection has provided real-time data for decision-making, information about the user base, and peer-reviewed publications, yielding government endorsement and partner hand-off for sustainability of the m4RH platform. Horizontal scale-up and adaptation of m4RH has occurred through expansion to new populations in Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania, where best practices for design and implementation of mHealth programs were followed to ensure the platform meets the needs of target populations. m4RH also has been modified and packaged for global scale-up through licensing and toolkit development, research into new business/distribution models, and serving as the foundation for derivative NGO and quasi-governmental mHealth platforms.

Conclusions: The m4RH platform provides an excellent case study of how to apply best practices to successfully scale up mobile phone interventions for health improvement. Applying principles of scale can inform the successful scale-up, sustainability, and potential impact of mHealth programs across health topics and settings.

Keywords: adaptation; mHealth; scale-up; stakeholders; text messaging.