Mobile phones can worsen healthcare inequalities

January 23, 2018, University of Oxford
Credit: Shutterstock

The fast spread of mobile phones across low-income countries like India can make it harder for poorer people without phones to access essential health services, new research has suggested.

The study by Dr. Marco J Haenssgen at the CABDyN Complexity Centre and the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health at Oxford analysed publicly available data from more than 12,000 households in rural India with sick family members in 2005 and 2012.

The study suggests that services expect more people to use a , and that are more assertive when they compete for access to the few doctors and nurses in rural India. In areas where mobile phones become more common, people left behind have more difficulty accessing healthcare services.

"Because of their fast spread globally, mobile phones are often seen as a blessing for development, especially in low- and middle-income countries," said Dr. Haenssgen. "This perception is particularly true when it comes to healthcare provision for the rural poor.

"According to the GSMA—the trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide—mobile technology can increase the quality, reduce the cost and extend the reach of healthcare to benefit millions."

The GSMA operates among others a platform to record new mobile health projects, which currently registers 1,081 such projects.

Dr. Haenssgen concludes: "This study uses only crude measures of healthcare access and mobile use, so this certainly is not the end of the story. But the findings add to a consistent picture of mobile phone use and healthcare access that has emerged over the past five years of research. While there is no reason to demonise mobile phones, we see again and again that their spread comes with problems as well as opportunities. We should therefore not conclude that now everyone really needs a mobile just to maintain their basic access to services – that would be tyranny."

This study concludes five years of research on mobile technologies and healthcare access in rural India and China, which Dr. Haenssgen carried out during and after his DPhil in International Development at the Oxford Department of International Development. Earlier research on a smaller scale into health-related mobile phone use in low- and (India and China) has shown that phone users are more likely to overuse scarce , potentially to the detriment of non-users. The present study tested this hypothesis over the long term.

The full paper, "The struggle for digital inclusion: phones, healthcare, and marginalisation in rural India," can be read in the journal World Development.

Explore further: Text messaging effectively supports treatment of HIV and tuberculosis

More information: Marco J. Haenssgen. The struggle for digital inclusion: Phones, healthcare, and marginalisation in rural India, World Development (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2017.12.023

Related Stories

Text messaging effectively supports treatment of HIV and tuberculosis

June 22, 2017
Mobile phone text messaging is a powerful tool for improving quality of care, as shown by José António Nhavoto in his doctoral thesis in informatics at Örebro University. He has developed and tested a method in Mozambique, ...

Healthcare corruption taken to task by technology, study shows

September 6, 2016
Mobile phone technology could help to beat bad practices in healthcare delivery, research suggests.

Recommended for you

A low-gluten, high-fiber diet may be healthier than gluten-free

November 16, 2018
When healthy people eat a low-gluten and fibre-rich diet compared with a high-gluten diet, they experience less intestinal discomfort including less bloating. Researchers at University of Copenhagen show that this is due ...

Youth dating violence shaped by parents' conflict-handling views, study finds

November 16, 2018
Parents who talk to their children about nonviolent ways of resolving conflict may reduce children's likelihood of physically or psychologically abusing their dating partners later—even when parents give contradictory messages ...

Why we shouldn't like coffee, but we do

November 15, 2018
Why do we like the bitter taste of coffee? Bitterness evolved as a natural warning system to protect the body from harmful substances. By evolutionary logic, we should want to spit it out.

Dietary fat is good? Dietary fat is bad? Coming to consensus

November 15, 2018
Which is better, a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet or a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet—or is it the type of fat that matters? In a new paper featured on the cover of Science magazine's special issue on nutrition, researchers ...

Low-carb diets cause people to burn more calories

November 14, 2018
Most people regain the weight they lose from dieting within one or two years, in part because the body adapts by slowing metabolism and burning fewer calories. A meticulous study led by Boston Children's Hospital, in partnership ...

Colder, darker climates increase alcohol consumption and liver disease

November 14, 2018
Where you live could influence how much you drink. According to new research from the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, people living in colder regions with less sunlight drink more alcohol than their ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.