Mobile health technologies may temper impact of social determinants on South Koreans’ health: study

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A recent study has demonstrated that the use of mobile health technologies can moderate the effects of social determinants on the health of South Koreans. 

Published early this month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the paper looked into the effects of social determinants of health on health efficacy and health status and how mobile health technologies lessen its impact on health outcomes.

FINDINGS

The study’s author commissioned a professional research firm in South Korea to conduct their survey, which was done last year in July-August. It eventually drew findings from 1,187 participants with an average age of 44. By sex, there were more female than male respondents; over half held a bachelor’s degree; and the median monthly household income of the participants ranged between $3,000 and $4,000. 

Based on the study’s data, men claimed to be more confident about managing their health than women. Those who attained higher education found themselves healthier. Respondents with higher monthly household income, social capital, and healthcare quality also reported greater health self-efficacy and superior health status.

The use of mobile health, the paper notes, seemed to ease the effects of SDOH on a person’s capacity for self-health management and their personal view of their health. Specifically, household income and social capital “had weaker influences” on health self-efficacy and health status for frequent users of mobile health. 

According to the author, while social and economic factors “negatively influenced” health self-efficacy and well-being among underserved populations, their use of mobile health “lessened the adverse effects of societal economic inequality on health”.

However, among SDOH, the quality of medical care is one area that mobile health could not influence. “Although [mobile health] systems are sometimes presented as a replacement of traditional care, it is unlikely that they will completely replace traditional healthcare,” the paper read.

WHY IT MATTERS

As far as the study is concerned, inadequate attention is given to the role of mobile health technologies in the society and health of South Korea. Most of the world’s smartphone users are found in the country where nine in 10 of its population own a smartphone. Below a quarter of them has claimed to be overdependent on their devices. As smartphone ownership and usage has increased over the years, so has recognition for mobile health apps in South Korea, especially in the areas of health promotion, prevention, healthcare, and social support. 

The study ultimately suggested encouraging the underserved populations to adopt mobile health apps given their great smartphone usage. Although it demonstrated the “very small effect sizes” of mobile health’s influence on health, the study still showed its potential to serve as a “buffer” against the effects of SDOH, such as gender, household income, and social capital, that contribute to widening health disparities. 

Moreover, the paper also suggested addressing the barriers to the use of mobile health among disadvantaged people.

THE LARGER TREND

One area of healthcare where South Korea is currently focusing on is treating mental health illness through digital technologies. Recently, the country’s Ministry of Science and Information and Communications Technology invested $26 million in a research programme that will develop a smartphone-based digital service for diagnosing depression. It is also planning to develop games and virtual reality tech for digital treatments.

Aside from mobile health, the country has also experimented with robots to enhance care delivery. A collaboration between the Chungnam Province and telecommunications firm KT Corporation ran a pilot of AI-based care robots that helped in reaching out to residents who are living alone and dealing with mental health issues.

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