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Medicine

Mobile Phones To Fill Poor Nations' Healthcare Gap? 52

Posted by samzenpus
from the can-you-cure-me-now dept.
Ian Lamont writes "The Industry Standard has reported on a couple of projects that aim to turn the humble mobile phone into a tool that can improve healthcare systems in the developing world. While poor countries lack adequate healthcare facilities, many have booming mobile phone use, even in rural areas. One company spawned by the MIT Media Lab seeks to leverage widespread mobile phone use with a Java app that lets community workers refer patients for treatment, fill out questionnaires about patient health and send real-time information back to doctors at health clinics. Another hardware-focused project started by a group of researchers at UCLA aims to create a device that can be attached to mobile phones and test blood samples for HIV, malaria, and other diseases, and send the test results to a hospital. However, it's not clear whether most mobile phones in developing countries can support these technologies, or if local healthcare infrastructures can effectively use the data generated by mobile phones."
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Mobile Phones To Fill Poor Nations' Healthcare Gap?

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  • Sounds Good (Score:3, Funny)

    by AnonGCB (1398517) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (smaps7)> on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @10:06PM (#26367099)
    Once you get mobile phones into the hands of average people, along with the test kits. Then there's the danger of people sharing the devices and transmitting diseases from one to another. I think I would rather get to a hospital, where it could be done right.
    • by plover (150551) *

      Once you get mobile phones into the hands of average people, along with the test kits. Then there's the danger of people sharing the devices and transmitting diseases from one to another. I think I would rather get to a hospital, where it could be done right.

      And as a resident of a First World country, and wealthy enough to afford a computer and an internet connection, we may think a hospital is always an option. But in too many places, it is not.

      One step at a time. Get them some handheld tools now, build a hospital later. It's better than waiting around for some millionaire to decide your village is worthy of his donation of a hospital, because those just don't happen as often as everyone would like.

      • by AnonGCB (1398517)
        Good point, but if people are funding all these addons to cell phones, development and whatnot, couldn't they build a hospital for that much money? Then again not as many people can make the trip. Bot have pros and cons, guess I'll see how this plays out.
      • Re:Sounds Good (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mabhatter654 (561290) on Thursday January 08, 2009 @02:12AM (#26368757)

        Sad to say many, many places in the USA up to the 1950's only got hospitals if somebody rich built them or a church society founded them. That's why so many have big names or Saint.. attached to them, even ones that are now "public".

      • by ThosLives (686517)

        Yes, but here's this key quote from the summary:

        However, it's not clear whether most mobile phones in developing countries can support these technologies, or if local healthcare infrastructures can effectively use the data generated by mobile phones.

        These "devices" simply collect data; they don't administer treatment or make diagnoses. Speeding up the diagnosis is indeed helpful, but if there's no infrastructure to use that information the information is pretty useless. Consider the blueprints to a car -

      • This is just a cheaper way for you to diagnose yourself. You surf medical sites on the internet for information about the symptoms you can tell you have, and then just take the medication for all the diseases you find.

        It's cheaper for the end-user, while they still get to pay for their "care", and nobody is responsible when they die.

  • The premise is sound enough. Using the communications infrastructure (phones, data communications) to connect distant experts to remote people in need is a great idea.

    In many situations, it can actually alleviate a sort of utilization issue, where those with the need are too far from those with "the know" for the necessary information to flow between them.

    I think a lot of people want to find a way to bring US or European-standard care to others in the backwoods of Africa, but do so instantly. That won't ha

  • by Idiomatick (976696) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @10:26PM (#26367251)

    How is this not tagged tricorder yet? For shame /.

  • FTFA:

    Dimagi, a for-profit company started by MIT Media Lab alums, plans to release a new mobile application called CommCare within the next two months.

    I stopped reading there. The last thing countries with poor healthcare need is a for-profit companies trying to make a buck off the fact that they have poor healthcare.

    The whole profit-from-other's sickness just... well... sickens me.

    Now, I'm not saying that medical workers shouldn't make a great living helping people. I have a problem with *corporations* making money on top of that. It's a crime, IMO, that the healthcare industry is so profitable while people are dying from a lack of healthcare. No, I

    • by timmarhy (659436)
      People hate corporations for the same reason as they have road rage - it's a faceless entity. only that's a retarded knee jerk reaction because it's NOT faceless, there are people behind it. yes medical staff deserve great remuneration for their years of study and effort, doing it on the cheap won't cut it. if you can't attract the people, how will you create new drugs or technical break throughs?
      • I don't necessarily hate corporations (considering that I own a couple of small ones), though I have real issue with the corporation-as-person legal situation and the problems that come with it. But that is beside the point.

        Over the past few years, I've been developing this idea (making it no longer a knee-jerk reaction) that for-profit medicine is inherently evil.

        I don't have any answers, by a long shot, just a strong feeling that the current system is wrong at a fundamental level. The idea that some stock

    • So how should medical workers get their hands on useful tech? Test kits don't assemble themselves ya know and people generally want compensation for their time.

      I'm broadly in agreement with you, I think a lot of companies in healthcare do slimy shit (I'm looking at you, insurance companies)... but that doesn't mean making a reasonable profit and not being slimy are mutually exclusive. I mean, c'mon, you don't even know how much they're going to ask for the application and you're already calling them bloods
      • Like I said, I'm all in favor of healthcare workers being well compensated. That includes those who make medical devices or deliver medical goods or perform services in any other part of the system. Also, it is not my intention to call foul on this particular development. Rather, it brought to mind my personal dislike of the whole system.

        One question I have is: what is a reasonable profit? Is it reasonable if the cost to the sick is such that 10 people can't afford it and face continued sickness, injury or

        • Is it reasonable if the cost to the sick is such that 10 people can't afford it and face continued sickness, injury or death?

          No matter how little it costs there will be some people who won't be able to afford it, unless it's free. Is it worth it if 100,000 people who couldn't reach a clinic can afford it but 100 homeless people can't? If not, why not?

    • ---I stopped reading there. The last thing countries with poor healthcare need is a for-profit companies trying to make a buck off the fact that they have poor healthcare.

      Well, why not? That's industry that is moving and bolstering a new area that had little to no influence on global economy. That only means that money will be traveling there in one form or another. And donation of healthcare or goods or money will do little to no good. We can see what the Africans say about hand-outs and gimmees here [globalenvision.org]. The

    • by u38cg (607297)
      Sorry, pal, but you're so far off the map it isn't even funny. We all need to eat, but most countries haven't banned making money off selling food yet.
  • hear my heartbeat now? Doctor? Doctor?
  • Convergence? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cbiltcliffe (186293) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @11:21PM (#26367705) Homepage Journal

    I've heard of convergence, but I think this is taking it a little far. Why do companies that want to design a device, function, whatever, always immediately think "Let's make a mobile phone that does that!!"

    What the hell makes you think a cellphone would make a good mobile health lab? One person with HIV or malaria is going to get one of these, test themselves, not clean it properly, then infect the rest of the village as they run around testing everybody else.
    Most places needing this type of testing won't even have clean water, much less an autoclave, which is what you really need to properly sterilize any medical equipment like this.

    Here's an idea:
    Rather than making it a cellphone attachment, build a small device, the size of a big toolbox, or a bit bigger, that will do what's needed. Put a decent battery in it, solar panels and a wind generator, and a small autoclave. Make it as automated as possible.
    Bingo. Renewable energy powered, clean and safe health testing for a village. Then, you can use the power and heat capabilities of this thing to boil water, and get non-malaria-infected water for these people to drink, too.

    Try that with a cellphone.

    Morons.

    • I don't know where you're getting the idea that the phone is part of the testing equipment. Like any good Slashdotter, I haven't RTFA, but I get the impression that the Java applet would be used to transmit the results to the hospital and allow a doctor, nurse or paramedic to give further instructions or advice based on the results.
      • No, I'm not talking about the first one. I'm talking about the hardware one that's mentioned second.

        FTFA (I know...you haven't read it):

        developed a prototype for a lens-free device, small enough to fit into a cell phone, that can count cell types in a cell solution. By counting cell types, the device can determine whether a patient might have HIV, malaria or other medical conditions.
        -----snip-----
        The lens-free technique Ozcan is using is called LUCAS
        -----snip-----
        Ozcan pictures a world where people will be able to draw a tiny blood simple, place it on a chip the size of a quarter and insert it into a LUCAS-equipped cell phone. The phone would then be able to count cells and wirelessly send the results to a hospital.

        A Java app on a phone to do referrals and stuff like that makes at least a modicum of sense. This blood analysis phone device is moronic.

        • Aha! I see. Thanx. Presumably, it will be designed so that the blood sample can't come into contact with the phone. At least, I hope so. If not, your concerns would certainly be justified.
    • Please stop saying that brown people are incapable of hygeine. What is this, Queen Victoria 1869? Please stop the right-wing crap and concentrate on helping, not hurting.
      • Re:Convergence? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday January 08, 2009 @01:16AM (#26368463) Journal
        I don't think that this is a "brown people are incapable of hygiene" thing; but a "the world over, expensive medical equipment has a way of being reused under economic pressure, unless fairly strong constraints are in place" thing.

        Even in modern, western, deeply-afraid-of-malpractice-suits medical settings, medical devices are commonly engineered with hope of avoiding unsafe reuse in mind. Just look at the number of single-use syringe designs, for example.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Most of the phones poor people use are in the range of old Nokia 1100, not only because they're cheap but because they're sturdy and have good reception. Again, a nice and needed help from developed countries that does not work in the field because you just don't get it: that 3rd world people do not need the help you'd need if you were poor (kinda ironic btw). Maybe you can develop some nice gadget to stop your hunger for oil, dope, diamonds and natural resources because that it's what starts everithing. Mo
  • to turn the humble mobile phone into a tool that can improve healthcare systems

    Sounds like a good idea, everybody in the US has a cellphone anyway. Glad to see there are innovating thinkers to improve the healthcare system ;)

  • Everyone seems to have gone off on, "what happens in the 3rd world countries when someone infected with... shares his cellphone through the village infecting everyone else."
    What I see is us being encouraged by our government health care to use these phones to do testing rather than seeing a doctor - much less costly. Then, because good technicians are so highly paid, outsourcing the testing/reporting/diagnosing to places like India

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