I think at this stage; that m-health or Tele-medicine works better when being a simple, mostly SMS based applications. Consider a tool that reminds you of your medicine, or vaccination or of a doctor’s appointment. These are effective, cheap, work on any phone tools that were accepted in developed countries and less developed ones.
M-health apps are good for spreading awareness
Another area where m-health leave its mark is when used in awareness or mass notifications l. Bulk SMS is a great in spreading information fast; and with the power of data warehousing, the messages can be tailored as you want, they can be based on geographic or demographic criteria, high income customers or the masses, they can address men or women, old or young.
During the avian flu crisis in 2009, the government was afraid the situation will go out of hand, they came to mobile operators for help, and we did. In a few hours, we identified customers living in the hardest hit areas and sent them official messages with clear instructions. Almost 5 Million messages were sent in 3 days thus reducing the risk and possibly fending-off the pandemic. We estimate that our messages reached 15 Million subscribers after being forwarded by original recipients.
More advanced, web based apps
Despite high rates of smart-phone penetration, especially in Europe and the US, I see that complex, fully fledged Tele-medicine applications do not fly easily; sometimes they don’t fly at all. I can speak about my experience here in Egypt where we worked on the ‘Tele-Derma’ project.
Dermatology is an ideal candidate for its highly visual nature, so we wanted to offer people living in remote areas, quality medical care by capitalizing on cellular technologies like phone cameras and broadband connections that literally ‘take you there’. It seemed that the notion was perfect, and that one day; this will be the default mode of treatment.
Several major entities collaborated to make this project a success, and it was, but only from a technical point. Pictures were taken, data logged in, information sent to experts and a full diagnosis with a prescription was sent back.. All via broad band mobile technology; so it worked like a charm. Moreover, expert doctors were better able to organize their schedules making them more efficient.
During the pilot phases, over 200 patients were treated. There a few bugs at the beginning, but were all solved by the end of the test, almost every patient data had the doctors’ full concurrence reaching a 90% success rate.
On the human level however nor doctors or patients wanted to lose this ‘personal’ touch they enjoyed for years… some patients actually preferred to go to junior doctors in their local area rather than using this application with a far more experienced practitioner on the other end.
It seems that for humans, interacting with the person who’ll cure you is a top priority, no matter rich or poor, urban or rural, one must absolutely ‘see’ his doctor. I’d tend to think that we will remain this way for a while till technology leaves no choice or we lose our human touch.. I’ll take the first possibility.
Need more information?
If you like detailed analysis about the Tele-Derma project, history, figures, dates, sample pictures and all, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it over.