GLOBAL - Soon we’ll all be using mobile technology for our daily medical needs, from filling prescriptions to monitoring our heart beat or taking a temperature.
In the US and Europe these might be handy additions to first-rate health care – but in the developing world mobile technology and mhealth could make the different between life and death.
Applying an entrepreneur’s mind to mobile health
Joel Selanikio is a pediatrician, computer programmer and mhealth entrepreneur.
After many years working on public health projects for the US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Joel concluded that most developers don’t understand what technology is needed for public health by focusing their efforts on clinical medicine.
The reality is that most people in the developing world will never set foot inside a traditional clinic – or benefit from advanced technology.
In many parts of Africa medical data and services remain at the most basic level. While working on a malaria-fighting campaign in sub-Saharan Africa, Joel discovered that data was still being collected on paper because software packages for mobile data collection were extremely expensive and difficult to implement.
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This revelation led Joel to design, and build the EpiSurveyor, a much-lauded tool which allows anyone to create a form on a mobile platform and collect medical data.
EpiSurveyor is now in use all over the globe: In Peru, health workers are gathering data with it on the link between the Human Papilloma Virus and the Human T-lymphotropic virus in indigenous women. In Zambia EpiSurveyor is a tool in assessing the spread of Malaria.
In 2009 EpiSurveyor won the Wall Street Journal Tech Innovation award for the Healtcare-IT segment it has also won the Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability.
Joel Selanikio said that there’s a huge difference between “invention and innovation” in the mobile health field. He cautioned that although new technologies come on the scene all the time, transformation only comes through real-world application.
Meeting customers via mobile technology
We pop pills to manage every aspect of our lives – from controlling cholesterol to numbing pain, lowering blood pressure or sending us to sleep. More than ever Americans and Europeans rely on drugs to maintain their health but, according to a new report, most of us are very bad at filling prescriptions.
Patients only refill their prescriptions about 15-20% of the time, according to pharmacists Walgreens. Part of this is probably because, at the moment, getting a refill can be a complicated process that involves calling the pharmacy and going through a complex phone menu system.
To counter this, Walgreens has launched a new project called Refill Reminder Text Alerts to give patients the option of receiving a text message when they may be running low on a medication. And the patient can reply with a message stating “REFILL” to have their order filled within a day or two.
Avoiding the dreaded automated phone menu with an SMS system seems to be one move that a lot of people would welcome. Ryan Williams, a web developer from Boulder, Colorado said he’d used the service already to avoid long waits in the pharmacy: “It’s great to see companies finding ways to let us use our mobile devices to save time.”
Walgreens has seen already seen an uptake on their existing mobile initiatives, with more than than 2 million customers using Prescription Ready text alerts. Prescription refills via mobiles might be only a small part of the mhealth revolution, but with 80% of Americans using SMS, it’s an effective way of integrating health into daily life.
Applications for health care
By utilizing one of the latest technologies in the mobile arena, Near Field Communications (NFC), a health company called iMPak Health from Sweden has unveiled a product that will help patients monitor sleep disorders. An application called SleepTrak helps users gauge how well they sleep, track symptoms, and provide resources for better sleep habits.
SleepTrack is a credit-card sized device, slipped onto the arm, that can measure and quantify movement. The device connects to an NFC enabled Nokia Astound phone where an app analyzes and presents the data graphically to the user or doctor.
Users can easily see the length and quality of their sleep, and doctors can use the data as part of a diagnosis.
iMPak Health is also developing new products relating to weight management and diabetes. By combining step counting and a food journal, the company aims to give people control of their own health and provide relevant information.
One of the key components of this solution is Near Field Communication. With this short-range radio technology, users don’t have to constantly pair and connect the card device to the phone for current and uploaded data. So its easy to use on an ongoing basis.
Expanding Life Tools to Health Applications
Nokia Life Tools is an innovative program that originally sought to bring valuable data to farmers in rural India who don’t have smartphones or the Internet, but can use their mobiles to get SMS data about crop prices.
Phones like the Nokia 1800, C3 and X2, and the new Asha range of mobiles, run Nokia Life tools. The service was recently expanded to deliver health-related messages in Indonesia, a country where many people also have feature phones.
The health information service will deliver tips related to pregnancy, sport and children for a small fee of 30 Rupees.
Nokia Life Tools for Healthcare aims to use preventative measures, rather than more expensive diagnostic ones. Working in partnership with NGOs, government, doctors and different partners, the service delivered messages around pregnancy, childcare, general health & fitness and health conditions like diabetes, respiratory, heart, digestive and HIV/AIDS, to safeguard and improve people’s health.
Connecting those in need to help
Giving people in remote and rural areas access to medical care is one of the biggest challenges of providing to health care in the developing world, especially as the nearest doctors clinics or hospitals are often many hours away.
A health center in the rural region of El Paramo in Ecuador is working with Nokia, the Minga Foundation, and the Foundation Human Nature Ecuador, on Project SaludCom to improve communication between the clinic and the remote communities it serves.
The goal is simple – to improve communication by collecting demographic and epidemiological data from the region, with health workers gathering information about the population’s health status and disabilities, as well as the prevalence of disease and access health care.
The project uses Nokia Data Gathering, which provides a server infrastructure for storing data and a mobile application that goes on phones to collect data. So far more than 3,000 people have been polled and treated in the first eight months that Project SaludCom has been in operation.
It’s the data stupid…
From EpiSurveyor, to Nokia Life Tools and Project SaludCom a lot of mhealth is about good data, because accurate reporting means that doctors and nurses can actually spend more of their time in the right place: treating people in urgent need of care.