Background: Mobile phone-based interventions are being increasingly used in community health work in India. The extensive use of mobile phones in community health work is associated with several ethical issues. This review was conducted to identify the ethical issues related to mHealth applications in community health work in India.
Methods: We performed a scoping review of literature in PubMed and Google Scholar using a search strategy that we developed. We included studies that mentioned ethical issues in mHealth applications that involved community health work and community health workers in India, published in peer reviewed English language journals between 2011 and 2021. All three authors screened the articles, shortlisted them, read them, and extracted the data. We then synthesised the data into a conceptual framework.
Results: Our search yielded 1125 papers, from which we screened and shortlisted 121, after reading which we included 58 in the final scoping review. The main ethical issues identified from review of these papers included benefits of mHealth applications such as improved quality of care, increased awareness about health and illness, increased accountability of the health system, accurate data capture and timely data driven decision making. The risks of mHealth applications identified were impersonal communication of community health worker, increased workload, potential breach in privacy, confidentiality, and stigmatisation. The inherent inequities in access to mobile phones in the community due to gender and class led to exclusion of women and the poor from the benefits of mHealth interventions. Though mHealth interventions increased access to healthcare by taking healthcare to remote areas through tele-health, unless we contextualise mHealth to local rural settings through community engagement, it is likely to remain inequitable.
Conclusion: This scoping review revealed that there is a lack of well conducted empirical studies which explore the ethical issues related to mHealth applications in community health work.
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