Mapping the space of mobile-phone health interventions

Mobile phones are becoming an increasingly important platform for the delivery of health interventions.
Mapping the space of mobile-phone health interventions

Healthcare in the pocket.On Saturday, stakeholders, non-governmental organisations and medical professionals got together at IIT-Madras to discuss the advantages and challenges of using mobile technology in healthcare, or m-health.

At the national consultation, organised by the Centre for Technology and Policy, IIT-M in collaboration with the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, experts said that while there were many benefits both to patients and providers there continued to be hiccups which needed to be sorted out.

Nirmala Murthy of Project DRISTHI in Bangalore said they used tablets to enable healthcare workers to keep and store records in order to reduce their work. While there were some functional complaints about the app, research showed that the outcomes were much better once the healthcare workers started using them, she said.

In Kathalampet, Vellore district, the Rural Technology and Business Incubator implemented a pilot project where pregnant mothers would receive advisories via voice calls in Tamil during their pregnancy and once their child was born.The calls would also collect feedback, by posing questions and getting answers through an automated voice response system.

If there was an adverse event reported, an SMS would alert the doctor.“We realised that frontline healthcare workers were crucial to this as they got the pregnant mothers registered and also told us about any hitches in the system,” said Deapica Ravindran of the Incubator.

What is needed, said Kartik Kalyanram, a doctor at the Rishi Valley Rural Health Centre, are simple, robust handheld devices with embedded systems, and possibly cloud storage. “They should be easy to use that is crucial,” he said.

The advantages are plenty better and easier recording and storage of data, accessibility to patients and more follow-ups. However, challenges such as lack of internet connectivity, migration of residents, apps that are not suitable in the Indian context yet continue to exist and need to be addressed to take the technology forward, the experts said.

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