What does mHealth mean in 2020?

By David Haddad on January 3, 2020 - Sign up for free updates here

I’ve been pondering the word “mHealth” and its place in this new year and decade. I’m going to walk through the term’s history and how it’s changed over the last decade or so. 

Mobile phones are tools

There hasn’t been a tool as transformative to mankind as the mobile phone. 

Mobile phones are in everyone’s pocket today and have bridged the gaps in communication and information in such a short time. 

Humans need names 

We humans give greater weight to things that have names. 

Over 12 years ago, health workers and patients were using mobile phones to do healthcare. That meant using a mobile phone to record data, create data registries, send lab results, communicate with patients and a whole lot more. 

There were no rules. Only people trying to do their jobs better with a powerful piece of technology in everyone’s pocket.  

In 2008, the Rockefeller Foundation brought together a group of people at their seminal conference “eHealth connect” and coined the termed “mHealth”. It was short-hand to describe the use of a mobile phone to perform healthcare. 

The term “mHealth” gave weight to a new industry that the world could ever imagined. 

The promise back in 2008 was that any individual should be able to open up their phone, send a message and get quality healthcare wherever they were at. 

With the creation of connected devices and wearables, the term shifted where a person could go to the store (Best Buy or Amazon in the US), buy a device, download an app and that data sent to your care team. The care team would focus on proactive health and intervene as needed. 

As ambitious as it was 12 years ago, we are coming closer to realizing this reality.   


I often get asked why doesn’t Open mHealth change your name? They say: “mHealth is not used anymore.” 

“Word-thinking”, according to Dlibert comic Scott Adams, is when you debate about the definition of words (from his new book Loser Think). 

I remember when Mathew Holt from Health 2.0 would get on stage and argue with people about the word and use “mHealth”. If I recall, his argument was that we should not call things mHealth because everything it’s going to be “health” in the future. 

Matt’s point wasn’t wrong. 

But we still debate this term today. Are we working in “digital health”, “telehealth”, “mHealth”. 
trend mhealth digital health telehealth


Looking at the words, mHealth, digital health and telehealth, the interest in these categories has increased over the last five years. 

So what does mHealth mean in 2020? 

Whether you want to identify and argue the nuances between “digital health”, “mHealth” or whatever the word du jour is, the meaning is still the same. 

These terms are directionally accurate. They continue to create meaning around an industry that wants to make health and healthcare more accessible from wherever we eat, work and play in our daily lives. 

Still a big fight to achieve our shared mission

While the industry is thriving between jobs, investments, more startups entering this space, incumbents shifting their strategies to be more patient-centric, and a whole lot more. We have a long way to go.

There is still no easy way to share your health information with your health provider in a seamless way. There are a lot of point solutions trying to solve the problem, but as an industry we have a long way to go to even look like the banking sector.

There are efforts like Open mHealth, FHIR and even private companies like Ciitizen trying to make data more usable and interoperable. While our efforts are critical to making health data more liquid, we need more support and harmonization of efforts across all levels of the healthcare ecosystem. 


First, Open mHealth will continue to fashion its ‘mHealth” moniker and help the greater mission of making patient-generated health data more interoperable through an open data standard. 

We have a lot of exciting things happening this year from the IEEE P1752 to expanding of the OMH-to-FHIR connection tool. We’ll be hosting more online meetups with community members and we will be continuing the good fight to help realize our dream of using technology to improve the lives of patients and their providers.

What does mHealth mean to you? Leave a comment on LinkedIn.

3 responses to “What does mHealth mean in 2020?

  1. Great share and thanks for sharing insights on this important topic. Mobile health is everything now and one of the key aspects for healthcare industry to provide prompt patient care, better staff collaboration and easy goal achievement. Mobile technology is a boon leveraging the healthcare staff efficiency and with cloud solutions like healthcare mobility management, service providing and patient care has been more simplified.

  2. There is an incorrect information in this article concerning the beginning of the term mobile health ( m-Health) that need attention and correction by the author.
    From the historical perspective term m-Health was not introduced in 2008 but five years earlier in the seminal papers published In the years 2003 and first defined in 2004.

    Istepanian R.and Lacal J., Emerging Mobile Communication Technologies for Health: Some Imperative Notes on m-health

    Conference Paper (PDF Available) · October 2003 with 921 Reads 
    DOI: 10.1109/IEMBS.2003.1279581 · Source: IEEE Xplore ·
    Conference: Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, 2003. Proceedings of the 25th Annual International Conference of the IEEE, Volume: 2

    Istepanian R. etal. Introduction to the special section on M-Health: Beyond seamless mobility and global wireless health-care connectivity
    IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine 8(4):405-14,2004.
    Also the first book in the topic was published in 2006.
    These historical facts has been continuously repeated by scholars and experts in the topic that need to be clearly highlighted to keep the historical and scholarly integrity of this long lost fact on this important topic.

  3. Can the author of the article clarify the reason my last comment was omitted ? I suggest that a correction to be added to the article based on the facts on the Beginning of mobile health addressed in my last and comment. The Relevant dates and errors mentioned in this blog should be corrected for publications integrity

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