The Journal of Medical Internet Research recently published a research paper called, SMS Applications for Disease Prevention in Developing Countries, that found while there have been many text message-powered health initiatives, very few of them have been sufficiently evaluated.
"Those that did conduct evaluations reported process evaluation and uptake, providing limited data about behavior change. Moreover, with a low number of documents found in the peer-reviewed literature, it appears that, to date, little is being done to advance our understanding of what works and what outcomes could be achieved in using SMS for disease prevention in a developing country context. Major opportunities are perceived, evident by the number and wide variety of projects... However, the need remains for evidence-based dissemination of information about using mobile phones and SMS for improving health in the developing world. The limited evidence found in this systematic review highlights the need for research that assesses behavioral, social, economic, and health outcomes of mobile phone interventions aimed at promoting health in developing country contexts," wrote the three Switzerland-based researchers: Dr. Dr. Carole Déglise, Suzanne Suggs, and Peter Odermatt.
The study reviewed 34 SMS applications (excluding those not launched in developing markets or that focused on disease prevention) but only five had made available evaluation study findings. The researchers stated that most of the applications they reviewed were pilot projects "in various levels of sophistication" with "modes of intervention varying between one-way or two-way communication, with or without incentives, and with educative games." Of those five SMS applications that did have evaluation findings available, the researchers said that the "primary barriers identified were language, timing of messages, mobile network fluctuations, lack of financial incentives, data privacy, and mobile phone turnover."
Efficacy studies for all mobile health services -- not just those for developing markets -- is shaping up to be one of the big trends of 2012.
Be sure to read the entire research paper over at JMIR here.