, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 339–357 | Cite as

Engineering sustainable mHealth: the role of Action Research

  • Ulf GerhardtEmail author
  • Rüdiger Breitschwerdt
  • Oliver Thomas
Original Article


The present paper aims to review the value of Action Research (AR) in the evolution of sustainable mHealth. On the one hand, mHealth is a medically and economically massively expanding domain. On the other hand, the mHealth development suffers from a serious lack of sustainability, which has become particularly evident through the concept of “pilotitis.” The proposed methodological remedy shows a high congruence to the principle of AR. A quantitative and qualitative literature research is performed. Each result from the qualitative literature research is analyzed with regard to aim, main focuses of AR methodology, study results and AR contribution to mHealth development. The principles of AR with regard to mHealth development are described, showing a strong connection between corresponding methodology and effects in health care. We analyze the quantitative contribution of AR to health care in general and show the typical phases of AR healthcare implementation. Furthermore, a quantitative literature research reveals that AR contributes to 6 % of mHealth publications. Our qualitative literature research discovers 27 studies dealing with AR contributions (54 % direct, 46 % methodological) to mHealth. Main subjects of the direct contributions are Health Information Systems (38 %), Surgery (23 %), Conservative/internal medicine (15 %), Self-help (15 %) and Medical Education (8 %). In summary, our review shows that AR contributes qualitatively and quantitatively to the mHealth development and that AR has a special potential to generate sustainable mHealth solutions.

Graphical Abstract


Action Research IS design mHealth Sustainability Health Information Systems Pilotitis 


Author contributions

The present review is part of the PhD thesis of the first author. He introduced the original research idea into the research group, worked out the overview of AR, performed the qualitative and quantitative literature review and contributed decisively to the discussion. The other two authors acted as scientific supervisors, supplemented the literature selection with respect to the scholarly basket and revised the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulf Gerhardt
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Rüdiger Breitschwerdt
    • 2
  • Oliver Thomas
    • 3
  1. 1.Paracelsus-WiehengebirgsklinikBad EssenGermany
  2. 2.Institute for eHealth and Management in HealthcareUniversity of Applied SciencesFlensburgGermany
  3. 3.Information Management and Information Systems (IMWI)Osnabrueck UniversityOsnabrueckGermany

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