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A systematic review of randomized controlled trials of mHealth interventions against non-communicable diseases in developing countries

Stephani, Victor; Opoku, Daniel; Quentin, Wilm

Background The reasons of deaths in developing countries are shifting from communicable diseases towards non-communicable diseases (NCDs). At the same time the number of health care interventions using mobile phones (mHealth interventions) is growing rapidly. We review studies assessing the health-related impacts of mHealth on NCDs in low- and middle-income countries (LAMICs). Methods A systematic literature search of three major databases was performed in order to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of mHealth interventions. Identified studies were reviewed concerning key characteristics of the trial and the intervention; and the relationship between intervention characteristics and outcomes was qualitatively assessed. Results The search algorithms retrieved 994 titles. 8 RCTs were included in the review, including a total of 4375 participants. Trials took place mostly in urban areas, tested different interventions (ranging from health promotion over appointment reminders and medication adjustments to clinical decision support systems), and included patients with different diseases (diabetes, asthma, hypertension). Except for one study all showed rather positive effects of mHealth interventions on reported outcome measures. Furthermore, our results suggest that particular types of mHealth interventions that were found to have positive effects on patients with communicable diseases and for improving maternal care are likely to be effective also for NCDs. Conclusions Despite rather positive results of included RCTs, a firm conclusion about the effectiveness of mHealth interventions against NCDs is not yet possible because of the limited number of studies, the heterogeneity of evaluated mHealth interventions and the wide variety of reported outcome measures. More research is needed to better understand the specific effects of different types of mHealth interventions on different types of patients with NCDs in LaMICs.
Published in: BMC Public Health, 10.1186/s12889-016-3226-3, BioMed Central