Mobile patient/client communication: Cochrane review

October 22, 2019
Judith M. Orvos, ELS

a BELS-certified medical writer and editor, and an editorial consultant for Contemporary OB/GYN

A new qualitative review from the Cochrane Collaborative provides insights on what the end users like and don’t like about this form of communication.

Use of mobile devices to share information with patients is becoming more and more common among health systems. A new qualitative review from the Cochrane Collaborative provides insights on what the end users and like and don’t like about this form of communication.

Published online in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the qualitative evidence synthesis was designed to explore experiences of targeted digital communication via mobile devices on topics related to reproductive, maternal, newborn, child or adolescent health. For purposes of the research, the authors used the term “client” to describe the end users.

To identify appropriate data, the authors searched MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, Embase, World Health Organization Global Health Library, and POPLINE databases. They looked from inception through July 3 to 6 2017 (depending on the database) for studies that examined clients’ perceptions and experiences of targeted digital communication via mobile device in the topics previously listed.

Of the 35 studies selected, which spanned six continents, 19 were conducted in low- and middle-income settings and 16 in high-income settings. Some studies were hypothetical whereas in others, the participants had experience with the digital communication. The types of digital communication varied, from medical or appointment reminders to information prenatal health, support for smoking cessation in pregnancy, to general information on sexual health.

The authors found that clients’ experiences with the technology were mixed. Some felt the communications gave them a sense of support and connectedness and said they shared the messages with friends and family. Other clients, however, difficulty with the communications because of poor cell or Internet service, lack of a phone, or problems affording the cost of airtime. Women and teenagers, in particular, had their access to phones controlled by others.

Looking at economics, some respondents said that the cost of messages was a problem and many wanted them to be free of charge. Language used and ability to read, write, and use mobile phones also also could be problematic.

Among issues highlighted by the research were client requests for:

  • Messages at a time and frequency convenient to them

  • Assurances about privacy and confidentiality, particularly if they had a stigmatized or personal health condition

  • Use of neutral language to deal with sensitive issues

The authors suggested that health systems planning to using digital communication with clients ask questions such as the following:

  • Do clients own or have access to a functioning mobile device? If no, have solutions to access issues been considered?

  • Is participating in the digital health intervention free or of very limited cost to ensure there are no barriers to participation? If not have solutions to access issues been considered?

  • Have solutions been considered for when clients have their access to a phone controlled by someone else?

  • Have solutions been considered for tailoring or changing intervention content to engage clients who have low literacy, differing language skills, or limited digital literacy?

  • Have solutions been considered for tailoring or changing intervention content to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of clients and to avoid any harms that a break in this privacy may cause?