More than 30% of Indians lack access to even basic healthcare services. Rural India has less than 1 doctor for every 5,000 citizens, this is 80% below the bare minimum recommended by WHO. It is a norm for people to have to travel more than 50kms to avail basic diagnostic facilities and medicines. Government infrastructure in healthcare is under severe need of a revamp. But it is not going to happen over-night. So, is there a way we can leverage technology and provide healthcare facilities to the under-served using the current infrastructure?
Present day smart phones have more computing power than what most computers had 5 years ago. Coupled with the kind of penetration these hand held devices enjoy, they have the potential to revolutionize diagnostics for the times to come. Scientists and Innovators around the world are working tirelessly to harness this vast “man-made resource” to create apps and devices which when combined to your phone will have the potential to put the modern day diagnostic centres to shame in terms of both speed and accuracy.
Well, as it stands we may be closer to this future than we realize:
Senseonics is developing a continuous glucose monitoring system consisting of three major components: an implanted sensor, a wireless transmitter that communicates with the sensor, and a smart-phone mobile medical application. With this device, a diabetes patient’s glucose levels could be measured remotely every few minutes, and accurate and specific alerts would be sent to both the user and the physician about impending hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia.
Another example is “Smarthaler” a concept system Sagentiarecently developed for asthma patients. The concept uses a novel acoustic detection technology, together with a cloud-based server and mobile app, to monitor and interpret whether a patient is administering doses properly. The system could warn the patient that a dose was taken incorrectly, coach the patient to improve dosing technique, and provide the doctor with a historic record of treatment adherence to determine the context of an asthma attack and options for improved treatment going forward.
Opko Diagnosticscreated ripples a couple of years back when it claimed to be able to detect Syphillis and HIV using a handheld device in less than 15 minutes and costing less than 1$! They are currently working to expand the current technology to facilitate testing for prostrate cancer, Alzheimer’s, Vitamin D deficiency etc.
Cameras in smartphones will inevitably replace nearly all portable cameras and camcorders, but could they also make basic medical instruments obsolete?
A magnifying ball lens (on top of your smart phone camera lens) can reveal signs of iron deficiency Anaemia, or the deformed red blood cells of Sickle cell, and larger lenses could help diagnose even skin diseases, better software might even count and identify blood cells for an even wider range of diseases.
But what about the lack of internet in most rural areas, how can mobile phones there help provide better healthcare?
Messages like the above are sent by the Health Ministry in Kenya every Tuesday morning to its more than 15,000 health workers throughout Kenya, who then provide more accurate treatment to the masses. The Kenyan government realises that there is a severe lack in basic healthcare services and is using mobile messages to spread awareness, and initiatives like the above have been found to improve the quality of treatment by 25%
Government of Tanzania is running a similar successful initiative for promoting healthy pregnancy and healthy motherhood
Professor Bob W Snow, who heads the research group in Nairobi, says: “The role of the mobile phone in improving health providers’ performance, health service management and patient adherence to new medicines across much of Africa has a huge potential to engage and promote health to many people, who despite being poor and often inaccessible nevertheless have access to cell phone communication.”